This week we remembered the victims of 9/11. There were services in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania with major dignitaries, survivors, families of the fallen, rescue workers and proud Americans, all remembering and honoring those who were lost on September 11, 2001.
The ten year anniversary was also a time to see how we as a nation have recovered, healed, and rebuilt. The Pentagon has been repaired, a memorial has been erected where the Twin Towers fell, and a National Park has been established in the field in Pennsylvania where the third plane crashed. Thanks to increased security, we as a nation are flying again. While many still grieve their losses, people affected that day have moved forward, resuming and rebuilding their lives.
In Orthodox Churches, we also dedicated time this Sunday to remembering the tragedy of 9/11, saying memorial prayers for those that lost their lives, and praying for the healing of all survivors. However, for us this is also a time to remember St. Nicholas of Myra. Why do we remember St. Nicholas on September 11? For the Orthodox Church, as for many throughout the world, he is traditionally remembered on December 6. However, since 2001, he has also become associated with the date of September 11th.
St. Nicholas was a great helper to the poor, the widows and orphans, and all those in need. One of the first responses we as a nation had to this tragedy was an out pouring of assistance to those in need, but this is not why we remember St. Nicholas on September 11th.
St. Nicholas is known as the patron saint of travelers and is sometimes depicted as calming the seas around a storm tossed ship. Certainly we all wished for a return of calm and normalcy that day ten years ago, but this is not why we remember St. Nicholas on September 11th.
St. Nicholas is remembered as a great defender of the Faith and protector of truth, but this is not why we remember St. Nicholas on September 11th.
We remember St. Nicholas on September 11 because of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in New York City. The church of St. Nicholas was the only place of worship destroyed by the 9/11 attacks.
Housed in a humble 22-ft wide building, the Church of St. Nicholas stood in the shadows of the World Trade Center. While serving its Greek Orthodox congregation, the church also opened its doors to those who worked in Manhattan, providing a place of calm and quiet within the high-stress business environment of the surrounding area. On that day in 2001, its surroundings came crashing down on St. Nicholas, literally. The church was crushed by the collapse of the 2nd tower of the World Trade Center.
Ten years later, the church has not been rebuilt. The congregation is willing, the Archdiocese supports the rebuilding, and people are ready to donate to the building fund. Soon after the attacks, the Governor of New York and the Port Authority promised that the church would be allowed to rebuild at the World Trade Center site and agreement was reached concerning a nearby piece of land. However, turning these promises into reality has been a long, frustrating, and so-far fruitless process. The congregation no longer has access to or control over the actual plot of land upon which the church stood, nor has the church been allowed to build on the alternative piece of land promised it by authorities.
We remember St. Nicholas when we remember September 11th and pray that this church dedicated to him will one day again stand in the shadows of the office buildings in Manhattan, will again serve this 95 year old congregation and will again be a quiet place of prayer in our stressful, storm-tossed world.
“While we cannot bring back except in memory those who perished that day, we can bring back our Church as a visible sign that hatred can never conquer love, and evil can never defeat good. I call upon all of you to offer fervent prayers for the victims – both dead and living, and prayers that our efforts to rebuild Saint Nicholas will soon come to fruition.” — Encyclical of Archbishop Demetrios for September 11, 2011