A Time to Mourn, a Time to Rebuild
On the ninth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, joined the thousands of mourners at Ground Zero who offered prayers and remembrance on behalf of those who lost their lives that dreadful day.
His leadership in those ceremonies, and the Memorial Service that followed, were conducted against the swirling controversy surrounding the sudden refusal by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to honor their agreements that will see St. Nicholas Church rebuilt following its destruction on the morning of 9/11. Archbishop Demetrios, joined by Bishop Savas of Troas and several priests of the Archdiocese and Fr. John Romas, pastor of St. Nicholas, officiated at the memorial service held at 4 p.m. about 50 yards from the new site at 130 Liberty Street.
The service took place under an overhang behind the National Museum commemorating Sept. 11, 2001, that is currently under construction.
Following the prayers for all the victims of 9/11, His Eminence read the list of names of Greek Orthodox victims of the attack.
In his comments, he reassured those gathered that St. Nicholas will be rebuilt as a memorial to freedom and to honor and remember the innocent victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The Archbishop asked the members of the community to "praise and ask God to give eternal rest to the victims" and read a passage from a passage in the Old Testament book "The Wisdom of Solomon," 3:1-7 that he said characterizes the victims of the attacks:
"But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torture will ever touch them. In the eyes of the undiscerning they seemed to have died, and their departure was considered to be misfortune and their passage from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in man's view they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Though chastened in a few things, Great kindness will be shown them, for God tested them and found them worthy of Himself. He tested them like gold in a furnace and accepted them as a whole burnt offering. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth."
Archbishop Demetrios continued that the church will be built "in the shadow of this place where people can find peace and reconciliation."
Speaking after His Eminence, John Couloucoundis, parish council president, thanked those who attended and said "I believe St. Nicholas will be a sanctuary for all who want to come."
Many in the media covering the anniversary sought out the Archbishop in an effort to obtain a comment on the Port Authority dispute. His response was firm and insightful. He stated, "This is a day to mourn and to remember. We shall not speak of other issues that would distract us from our purpose.
"This is a day to recall the lives of all those who were slain by terrorists, who would defame the name of God by invoking his name in pursuit of murder.
"We shall celebrate the lives of those we lost here on that day. And by doing so we shall keep their memories alive. But let us also understand that St. Nicholas will be rebuilt within the shadow of this national memorial for the purpose of resuming its role as a holy place for all New Yorkers, for all Americans, and for all those who celebrate the freedoms our democracy represents," the Archbishop explained through a statement.
Turning to the future and the rebuilding of St. Nicholas
Jerry Dimitriou, executive administrator of the Archdiocese, observed, that the Port Authority had reneged on its years old commitment to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on Liberty Street, a location that the Port Authority itself originally proposed, and told the Church to go back to its original location at Cedar Street, while at the same time excavating away the original Cedar Street site and proffering plans that would put the rebuilt church literally on the sidewalk.
"This was completely inappropriate for a government agency that serves the public," he continued.
"The New York and New Jersey communities served by the Port Authority must be made aware that nine years of promises are being swept aside, and if their actions are not challenged, the Port Authority will prevent the rebuilding of this holy space."
Gov. Pataki makes his intent clear
In a recent news conference not far from St. Nicholas, the Hon. George Pataki, former Governor of New York stated, "We must rebuild St. Nicholas and we must do it here at the World Trade Center site. It ís incredibly disappointing to me that almost nine years later, not only is it not underway, but there haven't been negotiations between church officials and the Port Authority for over a year."
His Grace Bishop Andonios, chancellor of the Archdiocese, stood with the governor and observed, "It is a house of worship not simply for the Greek Orthodox community, but a monument to the 3,000 souls of all faiths that lost their lives here."
A growing alliance on behalf of rebuilding St. Nicholas
New York State Sen. Dean Skelos and Minority Leader of the Senate has directly contacted the Port Authority. In an open letter to its leadership he writes, "The construction of St. Nicholas would be a strong and hopeful symbol of resurgence at Ground Zero that should be allowed to go forward without further delay."
He reminded the Port that in 2004, the agency made a public commitment with then-Governor Pataki and church leaders to build a new church at 130 Liberty Street, but they have since reneged on that commitment and stopped communicating with church leaders.
Meeting the Challenge
The New York leadership that is beginning to rally to the Archdiocese because of this profoundly unfair, unethical and inappropriate behavior is heartening.
But Fr. Mark Arey, ecumenical officer of the Archdiocese, says the individual church member has an important role to play. "Each one of us needs to be informed and understand the argument. Since 1916, this church has been part of the downtown community.
"It must be rebuilt as a symbol of hope not just for the congregation or even the surrounding community but also for the whole country.
"It was the only church destroyed on 9/11 and the Archdiocese has engaged in honest, candid negotiating with the Port Authority," explained Fr. Mark.
"Last year they got up from the table, stopped speaking to us and have since made comments that disparage the motivations of the Church, to the point of accusing us of greed.
"This is patently not true and speaks to the Port Authority's own mind set at a time when they have consistently been criticized for their inability to move the rebuilding of Ground Zero forward," continued Fr. Mark.
Everyone is delegated
Jerry Dimitriou stated, "Each and every one of us is empowered to contact our elected officials and ask them to confront the Port Authority on this issue.
"Each one of us has the means to be heard and to entreat others to join in our fight to rebuild St. Nicholas.
"Know who your state senator is, your Assemblyman or woman, and your member of Congress. Together, we will overcome this difficult challenge and re-build St. Nicholas."