New York - The terrorist attack against the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center that killed an estimated 5,000 people, also destroyed tiny St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church located about 500 feet from ground zero.
On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, Fr. John Romas, pastor, attempted to go to his church but was turned back by police. Wednesday, he was permitted to visit the site to view what was left of the church. It would break your heart, he said of the devastation he witnessed. Its one thing to see it on TV, and another thing to see it in person. St. Nicholas is buried under debris. It is the worst thing. He described steel girders and concrete from the towers burying the building.
Fr. Romas said that, at the time of the first blast, one parishioner, Vassilios Torazanos, 50, was working in the church but rushed out of the building moments after the first jet, American Flight 11, crashed into the south tower at 8:48 a.m. He left his car in the adjacent parking lot and ran all the way to Brooklyn, about two miles distant over the East River. Normally about 45 to 50 faithful (capacity for St. Nicholas) attend Divine Liturgy on Sundays. He said his parishioners plan to rebuild their church and have established an account for anyone wanting to donate. (St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Atlantic Bank, account number 09062602, 8010 5th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11209).
Fr. Romas also said he is attempting to locate a site in the area to hold church services and plans to ask permission from city officials to allow him to retrieve the church's holy relics: those of St. Nicholas, St. Katherine and St. Sava. They were kept in an ossuary on what had been the top floor of the four-story building.
Greek immigrants established St. Nicholas Church in 1916 and purchased the structure for $25,000. It was one of two old calendar parishes under the Archdiocese until 1993 when it switched to the Gregorian calendar. Among the churchs unique characteristics are its small size and its icons, which were a gift from the last czar of Russia, Nicholas II. Fr. Romas expressed hope he would be able to salvage some of the icons.
The church also was open Wednesdays at midday, for people to light a candle and pray during their lunch breaks, to attend a paraklisis the first Wednesday of the month, or just for spiritual contemplation. The tiny church building was constructed around 1832. It originally was a residence and later housed a tavern before the founders of the parish purchased the structure. It measured 22 feet wide in front, 20 feet, 11 inches in the back, and about 56 feet long. It was 35 feet tall. On three sides it was bounded by a parking lot. Among its first members were the parents of Telly and George Savalas.
The church has been known locally for several years for its celebration of Epiphany. Parishioners would proceed to nearby Battery Park at the south tip of Manhattan, where a diver would jump into the icy water of New York Harbor to retrieve the cross.