Human Rights and the Orthodox Church in a Global World

The Orthodox churches living in a global culture have in principle embraced democracy and human rights. They are struggling, however, to cope with the implications of living in a democratic and free society. Nationalism, totalitarian regimes, and Orthodox traditionalism had in some instances suppressed the inherent plurality of their societies where the Orthodox Church was the predominant faith community. Read More

The Greater Environment of St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine

A man-made acropolis – the top of the Port Authority’s Vehicle Security Center where St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine is currently under construction at the far left., about 30 feet above ground level. At ground level are vehicle entry and exit points.

To fully appreciate the significance of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine, it is important to also consider its setting in Lower Manhattan. At the blessing service and ceremony for the site in 2014, architect Santiago Calatrava referred to St. Nicholas Shrine as “the Parthenon of Orthodoxy;” an apt description, considering the church building will sit atop a man-made “acropolis” that will be the above-ground portion of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Vehicle Security Center.

The top of the structure will also include a park with several benches and walkways that lead to the church. This “acropolis” is in the midst what could be described as an amphitheater consisting of many high-rise office towers that include the seven buildings comprising the World Trade Center (WTC). They were built between 1970 and 1985 at a cost of $400 million (about $2.3 billion in 2015 dollars). Two of the original buildings that were also demolished are currently under construction.

On any given workday, tens of thousands of office workers can look down and view the ongoing construction progress at the site. But this is a tiny percentage of people who will pass by the location and may visit the shrine, that will stand as a prominent witness to the Orthodox faith. In 2015, according to official statistics, an estimated 55 million tourists visited New York City, with about 5 million of those traveling to the WTC (formerly known as ground zero; the term is out of favor by the Port Authority).

Already, many thousands walk past the site each day and it’s not even the height of the tourist season. Another 225,000 or more commuters emerging from the birdlike Transportation Hub (also designed by Calatrava) will pass each day within view of the church. Archbishop Demetrios has described the area that nearly 15 years ago was a pile of rubble and smoke where nearly 3,000 died as a cemetery and that the shrine will serve as a kind of cenotaph, a monument in honor of the victims whose remains were not recovered.

St. Nicholas, whose original building, a non–descript rectangular structure that was also obliterated, will be the only spiritual connection that the victims’ survivors will have to their loved ones. There is the 9/11 Memorial Museum with photographs and exhibits relating to the tragedy, as well as the two memorial pools that occupy the “footprints” of the iconic North and South Towers of the WTC However, these are devoid of any religious, or spiritual significance.

The new St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine will be a fully functioning Greek Orthodox church with divine liturgies, weddings, funerals and other services taking place throughout the year for its permanent congregation. When it is not functioning as a church, it will be open to all visitors, much like St. Patrick’s Cathedral is open to tourists every day, as Archbishop Demetrios noted at a recent meeting. On the second floor there will be a small, non-denomination bereavement room for individuals to sit in quiet contemplation.

To arrive at this point has required a difficult journey of 15 years. From the initial dazed uncertainty immediately after the tragedy, there followed a continuous, difficult and, at times, nearly impossible, national effort on the part of many working on behalf of the Church. Archbishop Demetrios assembled a trusted and dedicated team of individuals to meet with local, state and national government officials for St. Nicholas’ rebuilding: Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, who has built support for the project among prominent lay leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church and community; pro-bono legal work by the late Archdiocese legal counsel Emmanuel Demos and Archdiocesan Council member Michael Kavourias, who both led the legal team’s efforts; weekly meetings on the nuts and bolts of all construction aspects attended by Executive Director of Administration Jerry Dimitriou, Peter J. Pappas, Nicholas Koutsoumitis and others; strong leadership, financial and material support by the late Archdiocese Council Vice President Michael Jaharis and many others.

Also vital have been the ongoing efforts by thousands of faithful in communities throughout the Archdiocese to raise funds and awareness of the importance of St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine. Almost 15 years and thousands of hours have been spent on these efforts that will bear fruit by late 2017 when the new church will rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

Society & Culture