-By Anastasia Kaliabakos
For the past three and a half years, I have attended The College of the Holy Cross, which is a Catholic institution located in Worcester, Massachusetts. Although I am Greek Orthodox, I sometimes go to Sunday Mass at Holy Cross, preferring to go to church even if I can not receive commu- nion rather than to not go at all. I do enjoy the Catholic mass, but I mostly miss the traditional Greek Orthodox Di- vine Liturgy I get to experience when I am home in New York City. For my 21st birthday celebration in January, a few of my friends from school came to visit me in Manhattan, and I decided to turn the tables and take them with me to visit the Saint Nicholas National Shrine on Liberty Street in lower Manhattan for the first time since it reopened in December, 2022.
The Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was the only house of worship that was destroyed on 9/11. The church was founded in 1916 in a small house that had been former- ly used as a tavern. In 1892, Greek immigrants living in lower Manhattan purchased it in order to establish a community home that would serve as one of the first stops on the journeys of Greeks coming to America back then. After 1916, the church stood strong as the environment around it continued to evolve. When the construction of the original World Trade Center began in the 1960’s, Saint Nicholas held its own as a significant place of worship in the lower Manhattan community.
On 9/11, Saint Nicholas was completely and utterly de- stroyed alongside the collapse of the World Trade Center. Thankfully, there were no people in the church at the time of the attacks, but during the time period that followed the destruction, not much effort was made to recover objects or relics from the church. Therefore, not much of the original Saint Nicholas church was able to be salvaged.
Of course, the Greek Orthodox community ardently de- sired to rebuild this significant church that had been standing for nearly a century. There was some difficulty getting the project started, and challenges mounted when, in July 2020, some remains of an 18th century ship were discovered at the location of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is actual- ly known as the patron saint of sailors, so this finding was extremely significant for many Orthodox Christians and furthered the idea that this church was especially holy and important to rebuild.
The final negotiations between the Church and the Port Authority to rebuild Saint Nicholas came about under the governorship of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. In fact, his office helped to solve the issue of the Church’s place within the developing WTC site. Ultimately, it was decided to position the new Church at 130 Liberty Street, which was extremely close to the original location. At the signing, Gov- ernor Cuomo said:
“We lost Saint Nicholas Church in the destruction of September 11th and for too long its future has been uncertain. Rebuilding Saint Nicholas Church, with a nondenominational inational bereavement center, is not just good news for the Greek Orthodox community, but for all New Yorkers. With this agreement, we are continuing New York’s collective healing, restoration, and resurgence. Now we are finally returning this treasured place of reflection to where it belongs.”
On January 15, 2023, I stepped into Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church for the first time. Even before I arrived, I was anticipating the splendor of the church — the structure itself reportedly cost $85 million, was designed by famous architect Santiago Calatrava, and is made of white
marble imported from the same mine that provided stone for the Parthenon. Its interior is also adorned with icons that were hand-painted by a monk in Greece named Father Lukas. As Jane Margolies of The New York Times wrote, “The icons are everywhere in the new church. One near its entrance shows Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, presenting a model of the church to St. Nicholas.
Another, behind the altar, depicts the Virgin Mother cradling Manhattan in her arms. Other panels include scenes from Sept. 11, like the burning twin towers and some of the firefighters and police officers who died in the rescue effort, which the iconographer [Father Lukas] painted from photographs.” The exterior of the church looks almost futuristic— like a glowing space capsule of sorts (literally, since its translucent dome was designed to glow at night). It is also notably made of exceptionally thick concrete and also is lined with bomb panels on the top of the dome, which, according to project executive Andrew Veniopoulos, was so that the church could always “be prepared for the worst.” There are also no stained glass windows, which are usually present in Greek Orthodox churches, in order to prevent weaknesses as well. Nevertheless, the interior of the church, although quite small, is very beautiful. It is adorned with bright depictions of biblical stories and a tranquil color palette that is very pleasing to the eye. The Divine Liturgy, delivered by Father Andreas Vithoulkas, was very special to listen to in such a powerful place.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and recommend that people of all faiths go visit the shrine. The church is open to the public Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10AM-3PM and Sunday from 9AM-2PM. You may also visit their website at https://stnicholaswtc.org/.
Anastasia “Stacey” Kaliabakos is a current senior and Dana Scholar at the College of the Holy Cross. She is double majoring in classics and philosophy and is a member of the college’s Honors Program. On campus, Stacey is the Chief Opinions Editor of The Spire, co-Editor-in-Chief of the Parnas- sus Classical Journal, and co-President of the Delta Lambda chapter of the national Eta Sigma Phi Classics Honors Society. Anastasia has been featured in NEO Magazine and The National Herald and has contributed to The WestView News since 2018.