Sept 11 Greek ChurchAn image of Christ is in place in the ceiling of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020 at the World Trade Center in New York. The original church was destroyed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The shrine is expected to open in 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
NEW YORK (AP) — After a three year halt due to financial problems, work resumed Monday on a Greek Orthodox church being built to replace one destroyed in the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Archbishop Elpidophoros, the leader of the Greek Orthodox church in America, stood on a balcony on the unfinished church and used holy water and sprigs of basil to bless the construction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center.
“We have heard the voice of the Lord and we are rebuilding our church,” he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was there to see work resume, said the continuing reconstruction is more proof of New Yorkers' persistence to rise from the ashes of the terror attacks.
“This St. Nicholas is going to be more splendid and more inviting than the St. Nicholas that was here before,” he said.
In its current state, the church designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava resembles a concrete bunker. But when complete it will feature marble cladding and a central dome flanked by towers like the two Byzantine shrines that inspired it, the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora and Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, which was converted to a mosque last month.
The church will serve Orthodox believers as well as welcoming visitors of all faiths who wish to reflect on the losses of Sept. 11.
The structure, which is surrounded by an elevated park just south of the rebuilt trade center's reflecting pools, has sat half-finished since December 2017 when construction company Skanska U.S.A. halted work. Greek Orthodox officials and Cuomo announced a plan to restart construction in January, but those plans were delayed by the coronavirus.
Archdiocese officials still hope to complete the facade church by Sept. 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Rev. Alex Karloutsos, the vicar general of the archdiocese, said.
The archdiocese has acknowledged financial mismanagement during the tenure of the previous archbishop, Demetrios, who retired last year at age 91. Elpidophoros said in June 2019 when he was installed as the new leader of the 1.5-million Greek Orthodox worshipers in the United States that completing St. Nicholas was his top priority.
The cost of the project ballooned from $20 million when the design was announced in 2013 to $86 million in 2020. Karloutsos said all of the funds have now been raised, including $10 million from the family of Los Angeles Chargers owner Dean Spanos.
St. Nicholas traces its roots to 1916 when Greek American immigrants started the congregation in lower Manhattan. The new church will replace the much more modest structure that the worshipers purchased in 1919 and converted to a church.