Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of all Greek Orthodox around the world, dedicated the cross which was placed atop the rebuilt Saint Nicholas Shrine in Manhattan on Tuesday morning.
Patriarch Bartholomew presided over the opening of the Shrine in the morning by conducting the traditional Thyranoixia service, and officially opened its doors after nearly twenty years of planning and construction.
Standing in the shadow of the Twin Towers for many years, the original building on the site — the first Greek Orthodox Church in New York City — was reduced to ruins when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed that day.
Patriarch Bartholomew, making the journey to the United States for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, celebrated the placing of the cross atop the Shrine in an outdoor ceremony under cloudy Autumn skies.
Death will “not have the final word”
On the table before him when he made his remarks were the only objects that had been taken out of the original church by the parishioner who rushed in after the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, including a damaged brass chalice.
At the Tuesday morning dedication, the Patriarch said that he stood today on the very spot “where the world changed in a cruel and terrible moment” twenty years ago.
He stated that he stood “before a holy temple, where there has been extraordinary toil and labor” in the reconstruction of the building that was lost on September 11. “This is where the Greek Orthodox faith will take the lead in manifesting to the world that good will triumph over evil and love over hate,” Bartholomew proclaimed.
He stated to the assembly, recalling the first Greek immigrants to the city, that he had come “To open the doors of the ecumenical patriarchate on the story of the immigrants who came to these shores in the shadow of Lady Liberty.
“We have come to this place to honor not only St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sojourners, but to honor those lost on that day,” he noted, adding that his visit also “inaugurates the countdown to the day the shrine will be open to all people.” The Archdiocese had pledged that the Shrine would be open to the public on the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, but the interior is still being finished.
Bartholomew likened the dedication of the building to the conversion to Christianity of the Emperor Constantine, who saw a cross in the sky, and declared that “By this sign, I will conquer.” The Ecumenical Patriarch stated “This crowning of the church by the exaltation of the cross is our sign of victory.
Selfless sacrifice of September 11 first responders lauded
“The cowardly attack that brought so much death to this place will not have the final word,” he declared.
Speaking of the first responders who selflessly rushed to the scene of the attacks on September 11, in total disregard for their own safety, Bartholomew said “The brave souls who ascended the stairs of the World Trade Center made a ladder to heaven, even as their bodies were left in the ruins that day.”
Like Jesus Christ, he said, these selfless people conquered death in their self-sacrifice.
Patriarch Bartholomew then entered the Shrine, which has some icons already installed, signing the guest book along with Archbishop Elpidophoros.
Although long curtains still shielded unfinished areas behind the altar, the near-completion of the Shrine marks just over 20 years since the total destruction of the original Saint Nicholas Church, the only house of worship to be destroyed in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Through years of planning and construction setbacks, coupled with two major financial scandals in which funds for the Shrine were used for personal purposes by two men associated with the project, the church took much longer to be rebuilt than had been expected.
In June 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that George Papadakos, the Archdiocese’s former Director of Finance, pled guilty to embezzling more than $60,000 of Archdiocesan funds for personal expenses.
In November 2019, the former executive director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, Jerome Dimitriou, was arrested on charges he embezzled more than $500,000 from the church.
Shrine composed of sheets of Pentelic Marble – like the Parthenon
The Saint Nicholas Shrine is covered in the very same Pentelic marble as the Parthenon, atop the Acropolis in Athens, although in such thin sheets, measuring only 3 mm, that light can pass through them.
The radiant, cream-colored light of the marble of the Parthenon, which has shone like a beacon for more than two millennia, is now part of the new Shrine, which has been designed to serve as a lantern, with a transparent dome which will allow the light from within to shine up into the skies above New York City.
But now, with its translucent walls and dome complete, and the decoration of the interior nearly finished, the Shrine will open its doors for worship in the first quarter of 2022, according to the Greek Archdiocese of America.
Situated next to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the church will be open to all visitors, many of whom may want to stop and pray at the Shrine as part of the experience of visiting the site of the terrorist attacks.