Beloved Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
This year, on September 11th, we will observe the Twentieth Anniversary of the tragic day we call 9/11. It is a solemn day for our Nation and for the world, particularly in light of recent events in Afghanistan. It is worth remembering that the first commemoration of America’s military response to 9/11, America’s Response Monument (De Oppresso Liber [Latin for “from oppressed to free”], the motto of US Special Forces) sits in Liberty Park across from the Shrine. Most poignantly, it is sited directly above what was 155 Cedar Street, the location of the beloved little church that was destroyed when the South Tower collapsed. This confluence of events – the Twentieth Anniversary of 9/11 and the withdrawal of America from her longest conflict, make the significance of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine all the more meaningful, as we will be present on the eve of September 11th to offer our memorial prayers for all who perished that day, and in the subsequent decades as a result of those terrible attacks.
On September 10th, this twentieth year from 9/11, we will illuminate the rebuilt Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine from within for the very first time. As the suns sets and the day begins (as it says in Genesis 1:5: “and the evening and the morning were the first day”), we will shine the light of Christ, the light of our Orthodox Christian Faith, the Light that never can be overcome by darkness. And thus, we shall commence the ministry of love, of healing, of reconciliation, and of peace at Ground Zero.
Our place at Ground Zero, a place that was filled with death and destruction twenty years ago, is called to become all those virtues I just enumerated above, and more. Our ministry is a sacred duty that we have for all people who come to the rebuilt World Trade Center. We are the only religious space in the complex, and our Church and National Shrine will hold an awesome responsibility to provide the missing element of faith in the new reality of Ground Zero.
The light that will shine forth that night and every night to come will bear witness to the love of God for all people, as it is so truly said, “it is far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” The darkness that enveloped New York City that fateful day was fueled by the spiritual darkness that comes from hatred and ignorance. But one candle can dissipate the gloom, as we Orthodox Christians know so well on the Holy Night of Pascha. We pass the light to one another, as we sing: “Come receive the Light from the Unwaning Light, and glorify Christ Who is risen from the dead!”
This is now the mission of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine. To proclaim that Christ is the Light of the world, and to share that light with all people. What a unique privilege to do so in this place, the epicenter of 21st Century history! And what an awesome responsibility!
May Christ, Who is the True Light Who came into the world, make all of us worthy to be this light, even as we light the candle of love that is our Saint Nicholas National Shrine. May the memory of all who perished on 9/11, and all whose lives ended as a result of that day, be eternal.
With Love and Blessings in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Archbishop of America