What is Saint Nicholas Shrine and Why is it so Important to Rebuild?

Once rebuilt, Saint Nicholas, like the Parthenon that graces the Acropolis, has the potential to inspire millions for generations to come. The parish will continue to function as a parish of the Archdiocese and it will also be a National Shrine on hallowed ground. It will shine as a spiritual beacon of hope and rebirth to cherish the memory of those who were lost that fateful day and to build a better future for generations yet to be born.  As the rebuilding of Saint Nicholas National Shrine moves forward, here is a look at some frequently asked questions about it.

Q: What is Saint Nicholas National Shrine?  Why is it important to rebuild Saint Nicholas? 

A: The original Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church cast a reverent and faithful shadow on the World Trade Center. Greeks purchased the row house in 1892 as a community home, and it became the Saint Nicholas Church in 1916. For many Greeks immigrants, it would have been their first stop after seeing the Statue of Liberty and disembarking from Ellis Island. The little church was a spiritual jewel, open to all. Generations of New Yorkers, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, would stop in to light a candle, say a prayer, or just sit quietly.

Everything changed on 9/11. Saint Nicholas was completely destroyed in the collapse of World Trade Center Tower Two during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. During the weeks and months that followed, Archbishop Demetrios of America presided over numerous funerals and memorials for the many Greek Orthodox Christians who died that fateful day. He participated in interfaith and ecumenical events, at city, state and national levels. And most importantly for Saint Nicholas, the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11, the Archbishop inaugurated a dialogue with then Governor George Pataki to rebuild the church.

The tradition of hospitality that Saint Nicholas exemplified throughout the twentieth century will continue at the new location which is located in close proximity to the old site, on the same block. There will be a Meditation/Bereavement space and a Community center, housed in the upper levels above the Narthex, to welcome visitors and faithful.

Q: Why did Saint Nicholas become a National Shrine? 

A: The terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center Towers and the Saint Nicholas Church affected our entire Nation and the whole world. For that reason, the Encyclical of the Holy Eparchial Synod of our Church in America is so compelling. As the Hierarchs state:

“The new Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Ground Zero will be much more than a rebuilt parish. It will be a National Shrine of our Holy Archdiocese and a place of pilgrimage for our Nation and the whole world.”

The Archdiocese and the Parish had always seen that such an evolution for this historic parish of Manhattan was the logical next step. Not only is the mission and presence of Saint Nicholas at Ground Zero a national undertaking, but also likewise are the costs and responsibilities.

Q: What is the mission of Saint Nicholas National Shrine? 

A: Certainly, Saint Nicholas will continue to function as a parish of the Archdiocese, and it will also be a National Shrine for all who come into its warm embrace. The scope of its mission will span the globe, as literally millions of visitors to the September 11th Memorial and Museum will also visit Saint Nicholas. This expanded mission of Saint Nicholas as a National Shrine of the Greek Orthodox Church of America is commensurate with its presence at the epicenter of history that defines the twenty-first century.

In his exhortation to the community, Archbishop Demetrios stressed the enormous visibility of the rebuilt Church. He noted that as a National Shrine, Saint Nicholas would welcome all and be a House of Prayer for all people. The Archbishop said:

“This church will not be just a national shrine, but also an international shrine. It will show the will of all people to rebuild and resurrect from the ashes of 9/11. This will be a church for all to light a candle for the beloved that were lost on September 11th. This church will be a Greek Orthodox National Shrine on Hallowed, Sacred Ground.”

As a Greek Orthodox Parish, the full cycle of services will be held. And as a welcoming haven of spiritual wealth and health, the Church building – the nave, narthex, and the bereavement space – will be a vital and indeed necessary component of the new World Trade Center.

Q: What is the interfaith component of Saint Nicholas National Shrine?

A: As a witness to the boundless Love of God, which triumphs over violence and hatred, a special, interfaith and non-sectarian space has been dedicated for peaceful reflection and meditation to be used by people of all faiths and beliefs. The entire structure, including the nave, bereavement space (2nd floor) and social hall (3rd floor) will have programs of remembrance designed specifically for the surviving family members, inter-religious educational programs, cultural events and an integrated synergistic overall program of activities, exhibitions, etc. that are commensurate with the dignity and solemnity of the site. The inclusivity of the bereavement space within the structure that houses a particular house of worship signals the American democratic and religious ideal that the practice of one’s own beliefs in no way hinders the beliefs of another. In fact, quite the opposite, it welcomes the belief of another. Thus the bereavement space is non-denominational and truly interfaith.

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