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“Rebuild My Church” FEBRUARY 2021 Live Webcam

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

If there is one thing that our Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine will represent to every American, it will be that religious freedom cannot be thwarted, cannot be stifled, cannot be overcome. When that terrorist attack destroyed the Twin Towers and everything around them, including Saint Nicholas, and thousands of our fellow human beings met an unjust and terrible death, it was an attack not simply on our way of life. As it was motivated by religious hatred, it was a direct attack on the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution.

As I reflect on this Bicentennial Year of Greek Independence and the courage of the Heroes of 1821 who rose up for their Faith and their Nation – ὑπὲρ πίστεως καὶ πατρίδος, I think of all the generations of men and women of conscience who have fought for their spiritual liberty, even in the face of great odds. In 1821, the challenges facing the Greek People seemed insurmountable, but their faith and character carried the day. Likewise, in the face of the terror of 9/11, the task of rebuilding our lives seemed equally insurmountable.

Like those Greeks of two hundred years ago, who regained their Parthenon for posterity, we have also struggled to regain our Saint Nicholas. It is not without significance that marble from the same vein that Pericles mined to build the greatest single symbol of democracy the world has ever seen, is being used to clad our National Shrine. By this choice, we are signaling to the world that faith can only flourish in freedom, and as proud Greek Orthodox, we invoke the very stones of Greece to bear witness. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ did on his Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday:

And when Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, as He descended of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen. They cried out: “Blessed be the King that comes in the Name of the Lord: peace in Heaven, and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus: “Rabbi, rebuke your disciples!” And Jesus answered them, “I tell you that if My disciples are silenced, the stones will immediately cry out.”

(Luke 19:37-40)

The stones of Saint Nicholas stand for a free and positive exercise of religious freedom for every person, not only for Orthodox Christians. We rebuilt the Church for the same reason the World Trade Center was rebuilt – because the destruction and tyranny of hatred cannot be allowed to stand. At one level, it did not matter what House of Worship was destroyed on 9/11; it had to be rebuilt. But is has fallen to us, the Greek Orthodox People of America to meet the challenge to rebuild as a sign of love, of faith, and of hope. We have and we will, and even more so, in this auspicious year of the Bicentennial of Greek Independence.

With paternal Blessings in Christ,

Archbishop Elpidophoros of America

Message from the Friends of St. Nicholas

Dear Friends of our National Shrine,

The construction of our Saint Nicholas National Shrine continues even through this difficult time of the pandemic. Thanks to your support and your prayers, our National Shrine will be a major focus of the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 later this year. The Shrine, the surrounding Liberty Park, the features of the Park (the Sphere which sits opposite the entrance of the Shrine and America’s Response Monument that sits atop the site of 155 Cedar Street, the location of the Church destroyed on 9/11) – all of these will be major elements of the observances to take place on September 11, 2021.

As Archbishop Elpidophoros noted in his remarks, our rebuilding has tremendous significance for the Nation and for the world. Saint Nicholas was the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11, and it’s rebuilding is a tangible symbol of hope for all people. In consequence we want as many people to be involved with the rebuilding and vision of the Shrine as possible.

Therefore, we encourage everyone to contribute to the rebuilding of the National Shrine. That is why we are planning for a Virtual Community to surround the Shrine through their spiritual and material support. Everyone in the world will be able to become a “Virtual Member” of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine. Every donation will be recorded digitally in the Shrine itself. Outside, in the garden on the south side of the Church, there will be a magnificent granite Donor Wall to record the major donors who have given $100,000 or more.

We hope that this year, as we speed to completion, we will add more names to that exterior donor wall, and for those who are able, we encourage your active participation. This is the time to make your personal statement about what the Shrine means to you, and for you to permanently have your name associated with what will become known as the most famous Orthodox Church in the Western World.

We thank all of you for your support, your prayers, and your generosity.


Dennis Mehiel

Michael Psaros
Friends of St. Nicholas Board of Trustees

Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, Honorary Chairman

Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, Vicar General (Advisor)

Dennis Mehiel, Chairman

Michael Psaros, Vice Chairman

John Payiavlas, Treasurer

Chrysa Demos, Secretary

Maria Allwin

John Calamos

John Catsimatidis

John Georges

George Marcus

C. Dean Metropoulos

George Mihaltses

Dean Spanos

George Stamboulidis

Aerial photo of St. Nicholas (North).

Removal of the two skylights.

View of the interior of the nave.

PA work on Liberty Street (North).

South Stair Tower.

and their Families

With the upcoming memorial of the two-year anniversary of the death of a beloved community member, Peter E. Costalas, we were remiss in not including him in the recent article entitled, Heroes of 911.  Our article focused on the two living Costalas brothers, when, in fact, there were three brothers involved in the business partnership and behind all of the achievements outlined in the same article.  Peter was the eldest of the three brothers and his father’s middle son. Known as the patriarch of his family, he was the visionary behind the family business and the one that led to its success. A pillar of the community and our church, Peter Costalas will always be remembered for his kindness, generosity and loving heart.

Here is their story again, with added pictures….

Peter, John and Jimmy Costalas and their families can never forget 9/11. They were just a block away at their Essex World Cafe for decades, and witnessed the horrific events of that fateful day. As John commented to the press some years later: “I watched the Towers go up. All the people who worked in the Twin Towers came to eat here. Young professional people, some from the Port Authority. You never forget people jumping from the 93rd floor trying to get out. It got so dark. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.” 

The story of the Costalas family is a classic American, and Greek-American tale. Since their parents came through Ellis Island, they opened nineteen restaurants in New York City. They worked long hours, from before the sun rose until late into the night, but at the Essex World Cafe, they became part of the history of the World Trade Center, for they witnessed its creation and its destruction.

On the day of 9/11, their lives were spared by a random act that had great consequences. A tractor trailer truck was deserted directly in front of their location at 112 Liberty Street, which shielded their entrance and those inside when the South Tower came down, the same Tower that obliterated the original Saint Nicholas Church only a few hundred yards away.

Everyone involved – the family members, employees and those in the Essex were spared, but not before they all made harrowing escapes. Jimmy’s daughter, Vivia Costalas Amalfitano, noted how the only way they escaped the the back of the Essex was “by feeling with their hands.”

In the days and months after, the Essex became a trauma and triage center and was used as a medical station. But for the Greek Orthodox Community, and the parishioners of the Saint Nicholas Church that had been on Cedar Street, the Essex became a House of Memory and a House of Healing. Through the years, parishioners and family members of those lost on 9/11 have gathered at the Essex. Even though forced to close for more than two years, when they reopened their doors, they reopened their hearts to the community and especially the survivors.

In the intervening years, as the Archdiocese struggled to maintain its rights to rebuild Saint Nicholas, the Costalas Family and the Essex served in quiet but effective ways. Some will remember that the relationship between the Authority and the Archdiocese broke down between 2008 and 2010. This was a time when all official communication ceased. But the Essex was always there – a place where the Greek Orthodox community rubbed elbows with members of the Port Authority, whose new headquarters was right around the corner. With their humanity and their constant, friendly presence, the Costalas Family was the bridge that brought people together in unspoken, decent, and Christian ways.

In 2018, the Essex closed when the the block changed hands, but it is now reopening just up the block at 120 Liberty Street, closer to 130 Liberty where the new Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of 9/11. And the Costalas Family and the Essex will continue to be part of the story going forward. They are the part of the living history of September Eleventh, and they are Heroes of Saint Nicholas, for whom we should all be ever grateful.


Figures as of February 10, 2021

By Bishop Joachim of Amissos

The narthex is the point of entrance into a traditional Orthodox church building. It is the liminal, or transitional zone, where one steps from the outside world in order to prepare and reflect, before entering into the nave. The nave is the principal space where the sacred services take place that enable us to participate with the ongoing Heavenly Liturgy.

Traditionally, a narthex contained special iconographic programs that reflected the church’s particular saintly, patronal dedication, or the donor’s interests or role, or various, non-Eucharistic liturgical rites or ceremonies that occurred in such spaces. In the case of the Shrine of Saint Nicholas at Ground Zero, all of these aspects will find their visual counterparts in the Shrine’s narthex.

Within the narthex, one will find an image of Saint Nicholas, flanked by figures of Christ and the Theotokos who present the Saint with the emblems of his episcopal office: the Gospel Book and omophorion (the bishop’s stole). This icon immediately indicates that Saint Nicholas is the patron Saint of the Shrine. The iconography of this image is based upon an episode recorded in the Life of Saint Nicholas: before his ordination to the episcopacy: Saint Nicholas had a dream foretelling his future role as a bishop in which Christ and the Virgin appeared to him, presenting him with the emblems of the hierarchical office, the Gospel Book and the omophorion, respectively.

Another image to be found in the narthex is one depicting His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presenting a model of the Shrine to Saint Nicholas. Such presentation imagery has a centuries-long history within Orthodox iconographic tradition. Two very well-known examples: the 10th-century mosaic in the southwest vestibule of Hagia Sophia depicting the saintly emperors Constantine I and Justinian I offering models of the City of Constantinople and of Hagia Sophia to an enthroned Theotokos and Christ Child; and that of the 14th-century mosaic in the inner narthex of the church of the Chora in Constantinople, showing Theodore Metochites offering a model of the church to Christ, the namesake of the church. In our example, the image of the Ecumenical Patriarch embodies all the Orthodox as a Patron. On behalf of all the faithful-clergy and people, His All-Holiness presents our international Shrine to the Saint who is the Heavenly Patron of that Shrine.

Finally, within each of the two candle rooms, there will be the image known as “Souls of the Righteous in the Hand of God,” (based upon an image in the Chora church, one of the architectural inspirations for the Shrine). This iconography is a visual reference to the Old Testament text: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1, “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and the torrents of death shall not touch them.” The text will be inscribed around these two images. This image makes a clear connection to all those who lost their lives during the tragic events of 9/11. It reminds us of God’s loving care for those who were needlessly killed that day and offers visual solace to grieving survivors. These images are placed where the faithful and visitors will light their candles, offering their own prayers for their deceased loved ones. And the placement of such imagery within the narthex acknowledges the centuries-long understanding of the memorial and funerary function of such spaces.

Here, image, liturgical action and dedicatory space are integrally united to create a transformative focal point. Saint Nicholas, regarded as one of the most powerful intercessors, especially for the dead at the Last Judgment, is presented with a model of his Shrine, a sacred space for prayer, by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The Ecumenical Patriarch represents all who call upon this great Saint’s intercessions, where those who tragically lost their lives are perpetually remembered, and where we the living are comforted and find hope for our salvation as well.

Bishop Joachim of Amissos is an internationally recognized expert in Byzantine Iconography and is the Director of the Archbishop Iakovos Library at Hellenic College/Holy Cross

Help rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at the World Trade Center by making your tax-deductible contribution:

Checks payable to:
Friends of Saint Nicholas
8 East 79th Street, New York, NY 10075

Copyright © 2021 Friends of St. Nicholas. All rights reserved.
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