The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church–located just across the street from Ground Zero–was destroyed ruing the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Now, 20 years later, it has been rebuilt to include a shrine and memorial to the tragedy. The church was illuminated for the first time Friday on the eve of 9/11’s 20th anniversary.
A memorial service was held from 7:45 to 8PM by Archbishop Elpidophoros before the exterior of the church was illuminated from within.
“St Nicholas stands before you today to tell the world that light will always shine on through the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it! Faith will always triumph over doubt. Hope will always vanquish despair. And love will always conquer hate,” Elpidophoros said.
St Nicholas stands before you today to tell the world that light will always shine on through the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it! Faith will always triumph over doubt. Hope will always vanquish despair. And love will always conquer hate. #September11 pic.twitter.com/EHvkAP27te
— Elpidophoros (@Elpidophoros) September 11, 2021
The head of the Orthodox Church in America had just recently announced that Reverend Protopresbyter Andreas Vithoulkas, the Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, would serve as presiding priest for the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine.
Elpidophoros gave a statement on Vithoulkas’s appointment at the Friends of Saint Nicholas non-for-profit organization meeting:
“The appointment comes at this time, as we prepare to illuminate the exterior of the Church officially marking the Twentieth Anniversary of 9/11. Although the Church will not commence its liturgical life until the Spring of next year, there are now pastoral decisions that require a priest-in-charge. And as Archiepiscopal Vicar for the Shrine, Father Andreas will emphasize the connectivity with the Holy Archdiocese of America, and help to build that bridge of connectivity with the Friends, once the Shrine is physically complete. Father Andreas has been an outstanding Chancellor, and as construction goes on, he will serve in a dual capacity as Chancellor for a suitable time of transition – both for the Shrine and for the Archdiocese. I have no doubt that he will navigate both roles splendidly during this period.”
St. Nicholas Shrine twenty years in the making
The construction of the building has been an extraordinarily difficult journey, having to weather charges of corruption and malfeasance, with the work grinding to a halt at one point. However, the financial problems were ironed out and construction recommenced under the firm hand of Elpidophoros, the Archbishop of the Americas, who was elected to his position in June of 2019.
Since that time, the building’s gleaming white walls have been finished, and the interior artwork, including frescoes and icons written on Mount Athos, have been created. One of the most arresting of the artworks that will adorn the interior of the church portrays St. Nicholas, the patron saint of seafarers, in a boat outside New York City as the city was attacked on September 11th, 2001.
Bishop Joachim of Amissos, the Archdiocese’s leading expert in Byzantine iconography, working in tandem with the renowned iconographer Father Loukas of Mt. Athos’ Xenophontos Monastery, collaborated together to finalize details in what the Archbishop called the shrine’s “Illumination from within,” the artwork which brings the sacred space to life.
The “Pantokrator” icon pictured here will be a prominent addition to the interior of the dome of the small shrine. This will comprise the only part of the dome that is not transparent; the rest of the round structure other than the ribs will be completely translucent so that the light from within the church radiates back up to the heavens.
The interior will not be completely finished or opened to the public until the second quarter of 2022.
In a statement just before the city and the country commemorate the terrorist attacks and the opening of the church, Archbishop Elpidophoros spoke about the upcoming anniversary, saying “It is a solemn day for our Nation and for the world, particularly in light of recent events in Afghanistan.
“This confluence of events – the Twentieth Anniversary of 9/11 and the withdrawal of America from her longest conflict, make the significance of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine all the more meaningful, as we will be present on the eve of September 11th to offer our memorial prayers for all who perished that day, and in the subsequent decades as a result of those terrible attacks.”