Construction resumes on church destroyed during 9/11; Cuomo presides at ceremony

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (middle-right) and Archbishop Elpidophoros of America (middle-left) pose with others at the construction site of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine of New York City on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. | Flickr/ governorandrewcuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday presided over the resumption of construction on a Greek Orthodox church that was said to be the only house of worship destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The project is set to be completed in the fall of 2021.

Located near the World Trade Center’s twin towers, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine suffered severe damage during the terror attacks that killed and injured thousands. Since then, the church has struggled to rebuild.

Cuomo joined Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis), the head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, to announce the return of construction on the church building after financial struggles and other issues delayed the project for years. 

“We are going to build back the way we built back from 9/11, and it will be better and stronger with more solidarity and more faith and more spirit of community than ever before,” stated Cuomo on Monday.

“We have gone through difficult times together, but we rise from the ashes and we rise stronger than ever before. That's what this St. Nicholas will stand for. It is a powerful message to all New Yorkers and all Americans.”

During his remarks, Archbishop Elpidophoros noted that the church was destroyed “by a savage act of hatred and terror.” However, he assured that the terrorists would not have the final word.

“We are going to open the St. Nicholas Church and National Shrine as a sign of love, not hate; a sign of reconciliation, not of prejudice; and a sign of the ideals that exist in this great American Nation, where one's religious liberty and freedom of conscience never excludes, but only embraces,” said Elpidophoros.

As part of the ceremony, the archbishop blessed the workers at the construction site, praying that God will “protect the workers who have returned to this holy place to rebuild in safety and peace.”

“Guide their hands aright, shield their eyes from harm, grant unto them and all who contribute to this Holy Work every blessing of body and soul,” the religious leader continued.

Efforts to rebuild the church have been complicated over the past several years, including questions as to where the new church building will be located.

In 2011, the Greek Orthodox Church sued the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey over issues about the location, claiming in port that officials "rebuffed all efforts by the Church to work with it regarding the rebuilding." The church claimed that the Port Authority broke a 2008 promise to rebuild the building down the road from its old site and also claimed that the Port Authority excavated church property without permission.

In 2011, the Archdiocese and the Port Authority reached an agreement to rebuild the structure at 130 Liberty Street, which would include a nondenominational bereavement center.

Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said in a statement Monday that the resumption of construction on the church Monday marked “a new chapter in the historic rebuild of Lower Manhattan.”

Financial issues have also plagued the project, with the projected cost of the reconstruction ending up being millions of dollars more than previously estimated. The construction had been previously halted in December 2017 over a series of managerial and financial crises within the archdiocese. 

A recent fundraising effort by The Friends of St. Nicholas, a group formed to oversee the project, successfully raised the $45 million needed to complete the construction, The New York Post reported last month.

Workers install a skylight at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City on Aug. 3, 2020. | Flickr/ governorandrewcuomo

The election of Archbishop Elpidophoros in May 2019 “reset the stage for a new, transparent approach to complete the Saint Nicholas reconstruction,” according to a statement from the church. 

Michael Psaros, vice chairman of The Friends of St. Nicholas, told The New York Post in July that the new church building “will be, for the Greek-American community, our Parthenon.”

“It will be a powerful symbol of the triumph of the principals of the American ideal, with respect to individual and religious freedom,” he said.    

Construction was set to begin in the spring but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

At the end of the ceremony, those in attendance witnessed the placement of the first skylight into the church’s dome. 

Cuomo contended that the reconstruction of the church will “send a powerful message to the world that New York is a state made stronger by tolerance and our respect for one another."

 "In the face of tragedy and destruction on 9/11, the St. Nicholas community literally held its ground against what was an inconceivable tragedy inspired by hate, instead relying on the power of love to restore what was lost and create a symbolism of faith and tolerance,” Cuomo added. "In New York, we know from experience that rebuilding after a crisis means more than just restoring bricks and mortar or reviving an economy; it also requires healing a broken spirit.”

The congregation dates back to 1916 and served as a spiritual home for Greek immigrants in the city. 

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