December 6, 2007, 5:54 pm
For the 91st year, members of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox parish in Lower Manhattan gathered on the day in the liturgical calendar that honors the namesake of their church. For the seventh year, they had no church in which to gather.
Instead, they worshiped in a white tent pitched on the south edge of ground zero. It was as close as possible to the site at 155 Cedar Street where their tiny church stood until it was crushed by the collapsing 2 World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hung from support poles within the tent was a large-scale photographic reproduction of the icon screen, or iconostasis, that once stood in St. Nicholas Church. Standing before the screen this afternoon, Archbishop Demetrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, presided over a memorial service and the breaking of bread in the hope of prosperity, health and peace.
The secular half of the ceremony began with a bagpipe prelude by Police Officer Tom DuBois of the Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band (and the 33rd Precinct in Manhattan), playing “Minstrel Boy,” “Amazing Grace” and “Going Home” — not normally featured in Eastern Orthodox liturgical music.
Emphasizing the commitment of government to help rebuild St. Nicholas, the ceremony was attended by Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler and Anthony E. Shorris, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who thanked his hosts on behalf of a boy whose mother’s family came from Salonika and who grew up eating grape leaves and drinking Greek coffee.
St. Nicholas Church also presented to the nearby Tribute WTC Visitor Center a framed copy of a stunning photograph by Eric O’Connell that shows the church in its final moments on 9/11, with both towers aflame behind it.
“It says something in the background of what hatred can do, but it says something in the foreground of what love and faith can do,” said Lee Ielpi, a founder of the visitor center, as he accepted the print.
No one was bold enough during the ceremony to predict when construction would begin, but Archbishop Demetrios expressed his simple hope: “May we be deemed worthy soon to celebrate not under a tent but in the new church of St. Nicholas.”