Thursday, September 8, 2011
The Ground Zero Church
Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was the last remnant of the historic Greek neighborhood that originally occupied the World Trade Center site. They shared the neighborhood with a small Syrian population.
The church was originally a tenement church nestled among other tenements. When the Rockefeller brothers drove out the inhabitants with a ruthless use of eminent domain law, the church became the sole survivor of the community that was. For decades, it stood in strange isolation next to a huge parking lot attached to the original World Trade Center, a functioning Orthodox church primarily for the former inhabitants who continued to use it.
The September 11th attacks destroyed the church, including all of its original furnishings that included some rare and valuable icons. The Port Authority, with the support of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, and the Episcopal Diocese, offered to build the small congregation a new church as part of the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese readily agreed.
Now, the future of the rebuilding of the church is uncertain. The Port Authority broke off negotiations with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in March of 2009. Both sides complain about new and unreasonable demands and conditions. The Port Authority originally offered to relocate the church to a different place within the World Trade Center site. They offered to build a new church that would have been far larger than the original together with an attached non-sectarian museum. They also offered a $20 million donation to the parish. The disputes began with an argument over the proposed height of the dome of the new church. Then there were arguments over the money and how it was to be paid to the church.
The Port Authority now says that the church can rebuild on its original very narrow property on the site, that they can build anything they want. The Authority plans to use eminent domain to take the land under the church to build a secure underground truck entrance to the site. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Port Authority still hope for some kind of mutually satisfactory resolution, but circumstances are making that less likely.
The church is now a political football in the ugliest of all the controversies around the World Trade Center site, the fight over the so called Ground Zero Mosque (actually located at 45-51 Park Place, two blocks from the site), a controversy entirely manufactured by right wing talk radio and Fox News (with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud, owning the second largest share of the network's parent company Newscorp after Rupert Murdoch; the Prince is a close friend of Murdoch -- and George W. Bush -- and a major financial backer of "Park 51," the so-called Ground Zero Mosque). A small Muslim congregation made up of local Pakistani shopkeepers and cab drivers prayed in an old warehouse at that address for 40 years with no complaints until now. They've since lost that 4 decade long house of worship for no reason other than people don't like them anymore.
At one time, Orthodox priests sang the liturgies of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom while Syrian muezzins sang the Adnan on the very site where the World Trade Center now rises, long before anyone thought to put so huge a project there, or to destroy it.
Posted by Counterlight at Thursday, September 08, 2011