Construction crews are hard at work, trying to get the beloved St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in ready condition in time for the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
“What emotions are you feeling?” NY1 asked Father Alex Karloutsos of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
“Well, I’m seeing something finally coming to completion after 20 years of agony,” Karloutsos said.
“It’s just breathtaking when you walk in,” said Michael Psaros, vice chairman of the Friends of St. Nicholas.
For Psaros and Karloutsos, who goes by Father Alex, the ongoing frustrations that have permeated the nearly 20-year journey to rebuild the church will soon be replaced by a sense of victory.
“Every day, we say our progress has been a miracle,” Psaros said. “September the 10th, when we light the national shrine, a true shrine for the nation up from the inside, it’s going to be a triumph.”
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was a small beloved church that stood for more than 80 years, steps from the Twin Towers.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, St. Nicholas became the only house of worship destroyed as a result of the terrorists attacks, buried under rubble when the South Tower collapsed.
Nearly 20 years later, construction crews are working long hours to finish the exterior of the newly built St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine by Sept. 10. That’s the same day a major gathering is set to take place, to watch as an extender light from the dome reaches the sky, to remember the more than 3,000 lives killed on 9/11.
“And that light will always be there,” said John Catsimatidis, Vice Chairman of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
The difficult path to reach this point has involved political power plays between state and municipal authorities.
There was also a highly publicized financial scandal, which forced construction to come to a halt temporarily in the fall of 2017. That scandal involved millions of dollars in donations solely for the construction of the church and shrine, instead being borrowed by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for non-9/11 expenses.
“The problem was once we began the process, we did not have the right management team in place,” Father Alex said. “So some of the funds might have been misspent. They were not stolen."
But after a new archbishop was elected and a new management team was brought in, church officials say confidence was restored amongst prospective donors.
“You need confidence in the system for people to write money,” Catsimatidis said. “We raised like $45-, $50 million in the first six months of the year."
Looking ahead, the interior of the church is expected to be ready by Easter of 2022.
Father Alex said the church will provide comfort and solace not only for the Greek Orthodox community, but for anyone who enters its doors.
“I get the goosebumps,” Father Alex said, “because I know we are a monument for 1,000 years. This will be a permanent, resplendent testimony to faith over, hopefully, light over darkness, love over hate.”