“The cross is the glory of the angels and the defeat of the demons,” chanted Archbishop Demetrios. Demetrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, turned and blessed the crowd around him, including a deacon, an archdeacon, and the Executive Director of the Port Authority. The group had gathered in the shadow of the World Trade Center to watch as a crane moved a 6-foot-3-inch cross on top of St. Nicholas Greek National Shrine.
It’s a milestone moment in Demetrios’ long struggle to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a church in Lower Manhattan that was destroyed by the collapse of the south trade center tower on September 11th. “As we are here and we look around, we see the triumph of human mind and human spirit and human, really, disposition of overcoming any tragedy,” said Demetrios.
The Port Authority Executive Director, Patrick J. Foye, has sparred with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America over the site for a new church. “A house of worship is going to have its own shape, style and iconography,” Foye said, adding that the cross was acceptable in an otherwise secular space because it was in a public park and because the construction was privately funded. At the World Trade Center, where officials have worked hard to maintain a secular character, the cross is the first religious symbol to appear in public.
It took two years after 9/11 for Demetrios, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, and then-executive director of Port Authority Christopher O. Ward, to agree on a space for a new church. Due to construction and funding delays, the shrine will open in early 2018. “My main concern is having a church for our community as soon as possible,” John E. Pitsikalis, the president of the St. Nicholas parish council, said in 2008. “Our congregation has not had a building for almost seven years. They’re restless.” Most families who attended the old parish have relocated to a parish in Brooklyn.
Reverend Mark Arey, a spokesman for the rebuilding effort, also wanted the church to be rebuilt quickly. “[9/11] wasn’t just an act of terrorism. It was an act of religious hatred at some level. Rebuilding the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11 is important for the psyche and the soul of the nation,” said Arey in 2011.
The new cross will be replaced with a permanent cross when the shrine opens two years from now, says Jerry Dimitriou. As the executive director of the archdiocese, Dimitriou says that the budget for the new church will be about $40 million, $38 million of which has already been pledged. The shrine was designed by Santiago Calatrava, the same architect who designed the Westfield World Trade Center shopping center.
Steve Plate, the Port Authority chief of capital projects, sounded a conciliatory note between the secular and religious tensions in the project. “We welcome on this site all denominations, all creeds, all walks of life and all religions,” he said.