By Fotis Kaliampakos – Special to the Hellenic News of America.
Twenty-two years later, for the first time on the eve of the anniversary, a touching memorial prayer was held at St. Nicholas at “Ground Zero,” which had been completely destroyed during the tragic events of 2001.
In the resurrected St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at “Ground Zero” in Manhattan, a memorial prayer was held for the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It was the first time in 22 years, after the attacks, that the church, which had also been utterly destroyed during the events, held a service again on the anniversary of that fateful day. The memorial service took place in an atmosphere of solemnity and deep emotion, heightened by the presence of the victims’ relatives. Among the more than three thousand victims of the attacks were many Greek-Americans. Among them, among others, were Ioannis (John) Katsimatidis – his sister Anthoula and his mother Kalliopi were present at St. Nicholas, and Daniela Kousoulis – her sister Eleni and her father Georgios attended the prayer.
The memorial was presided over by Metropolitan of New Jersey Apostolos and concelebrated, among others, by the Protopresbyter of the Holy Archdiocese of America, Father Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, the Archimandrite Father Nektarios Kotrotsos, and the parish priest of St. Nicholas, Father Andreas Vythoulkas. It is worth noting that the last time Archbishop Apostolos presided at a service at St. Nicholas, he had not yet been elected Metropolitan of New Jersey. So the faithful, upon hearing the relatively recent news, all together exclaimed: “Axios, Axios!” (“He is worthy!”)
With their grief visible on their faces, the relatives of the victims were the central figures—the tragic figures, if we may say so—of the simple ceremony. Bishop Apostolos addressed them first in a brief speech after the end of the memorial, emphasizing the magnitude of the tragedy for people who, as he said, that fateful morning, kissed and bid farewell to their relatives as they set off for work, not imagining that this would be the last time. And although no consolation can alleviate the incomprehensible loss and pain for the human mind, the relatives, with the help of prayer and God, continued Bishop Apostolos, must continue to honor the memory of the dead and find the strength and will for their own journey.
Metropolitan Apostolos, after conveying the message of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, also mentioned his personal experience when he learned, like everyone else, from the television about these attacks, which seemed like a scene from a horror movie but were the horrific reality. “I was in Greece and was getting ready to come in October. My mother then told me, ‘Where are you going to America now, can’t you see what’s happening?’ However, I couldn’t help but come. For me, these people are witnesses of the Church,” Metropolitan Apostolos stressed, and no one can and should forget them.
Indeed, the church itself symbolizes this day and functions, if we may say so, as the ark of the memory of these victims, as it had also been destroyed, with many of the partially burned items since then housed in the building of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Apart from the crowd of the faithful at the memorial, members of the Friends of St. Nicholas were present, Chairman and pioneer of the efforts to rebuild the church, Michael Psaros, as well as Dimitrios Papakostas, the president of the board of the historic church.
In statements to the Hellenic News of America, Mr. Papakostas referred to the historical significance of the anniversary memorial prayer, for the first time since 2001, and thanked the newspaper for its contribution to informing the public as well as for its support in spreading the work of the historic church.