September 10th, 2010
05:58 PM ET

That other worship space at ground zero

Editor's Note: CNN's Mary Snow and Alexia Mena bring us this report on the only place of worship destroyed on 9/11 and their hopes to rise at ground zero.

(CNN) -  The unassuming three-story St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church
stood dwarfed in the shadow of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Built
in 1916 in the style of the old village parishes in Greece, its location in
what became the glass and steel jungle of New York's financial district was
curious, to say the least.

The church had a congregation of about 70 families. They vowed to rebuild
it after the South Tower, engulfed in smoke, collapsed and crushed it on
September 11, 2001. But no real progress has been made.

The church negotiated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees construction at the site, and in 2008, both sides tentatively agreed that the church would rebuild nearby using tens of millions of dollars in public money. The plan also allowed the Port Authority to move ahead with a Vehicle Security Center, which is part of the World Trade Center redevelopment.

But the Port Authority said the church made extra demands that threatened to delay the construction of the entire site. It says it made its final offer in 2009 of up to $60 million and told St. Nicholas that the World Trade Center could not be delayed by the issue. It says the church rejected the offer and walked away.

Leaders at St. Nicholas have a different version of events. "In our perspective, they walked away," said Peter Drakoulias, an executive member of the church board. He says the church is a piece of a complicated puzzle, adding, "two different states and the city of New York make up the Port Authority. We've been through three governors and four directors of the Port Authority, so I just think that there's been a lot of cooks in the kitchen, if you will, and hopefully it will get sorted out."

While efforts to rebuild St. Nicholas reached a stalemate, a new development in Manhattan has focused the country on religious architecture and ground zero. The Cordoba House, also known as Park51, attracted enormous public attention and embroiled public officials in controversy.

While some see the church and the Islamic center as different issues, at least one Orthodox Christian leader used the Park51 controversy to redirect the dialogue to St. Nicholas. Bishop Andonios of Phasiane, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, said that while "it's unfortunate that it took a controversy over a mosque to bring attention to [the church], there is a silver lining in that controversy, in that St. Nicholas is getting a lot of attention. We hope the support we are witnessing, a groundswelling so to speak, will get the Port Authority to come back to the table to so we can rebuild our church."

The Port Authority says that St. Nicholas has the right to build on its original location and that work could begin in 2013 when the Vehicle Security Center is completed. Stephen Sigmund, a Port Authority spokesman, says the real question always has been whether "tens of millions of public dollars should be spent to move the site to a different site on the World Trade Center site to build a church six times the size of the original church, and to make sure any arrangements for that didn't further delay the construction of the World Trade
Center site."

Drakoulias disputes the notion that the church would have to be much larger. He says the new site would account for floors of "air space" it had above its original plot that was buildable space.

He and other church leaders are determined to rebuild St. Nicholas on or near its original location. "We recognize again this is a birthright, this is the only place we want to be," Drakoulias said.

And the fight, he says, is emotional. "We're talking about literally little old ladies in their 80s who say 'I don't want to die before I see my church rebuilt,' " he said, "those are the people I personally am here to

Drakoulias is a legacy of the founding families of St. Nicholas. His grandfather was a member and was recognized as an archon, the highest honor a layman can achieve within the Orthodox Church. In his right breast pocket, Drakoulias carries a hand-sewn patch of the archon emblem. "It's part of my motivation, part of doing something in memory of my grandfather. It's what he would have done," he says.

When asked about the sticking points of size and money cited by the Port Authority, Drakoulias rejected the claim. "If it was all about money," he says, "we would have taken deals offered to us decades ago to move elsewhere. It's never been about money. It's about building on or near our original site - the birthright of St. Nicholas - to go back to that site where it was for 85
years, prior to 9/11. Plain and simple."

CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • 9/11 • Christianity • Church and state • Greek Orthodox Church • Houses of worship • New York • United States

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soundoff (110 Responses)
  1. Iqbal khan


    September 17, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  2. Iqbal khan


    September 17, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
  3. Iqbal khan

    And now this is the call for prayer...

    September 14, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  4. Iqbal khan


    September 14, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
  5. Historian

    With all this rhetoric maybe the chruch should hold out for a anti-aircraft battery in the steeple.

    September 13, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  6. Mark from Middle River

    Abudu – I really do not want to come to Reality's defence but when dealing with the issue of America and Islam I do not know if you or any one can automatically label folks as racist klan members. If that were true then the klan has a good amount enough to start an minority branch of the kkk.

    And if you are talking about America converting to Islam because there are those that condemn Islam. ....

    ...... Then using your logic both America and Islam better get ready for massive conversion to being lesbian gay and similar.

    You are foolish and narrowminded to think that Islam is the only group to suffer condemnation. Think of what Muslims are allowed do in the
    USA and compare it to what gays and lesbians can not.

    September 11, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  7. Mark from Middle River

    At least we have seen a reduction of cut and paste post from your side of the arguements.

    Heck the lack of " one more" openings makes many happy that you have progressed. 🙂

    September 11, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  8. Saran Ghetti

    "the World Trade Center could not be delayed by the issue"

    Really? 'Cause there's little evidence AFTER 9 YEARS of any vertical construction at Ground Zero. Meanwhile in Dubai, they've erected the tallest building in the world in half that time. Is this a case of lazy slacker Americans, paralysis by analysis, or too many cooks in the kitchen?

    September 11, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  9. S. Balas

    Wow! What a scam this is! So a church with a congregation of 70 families is offered $60M and says that is not enough to rebuild? Why should we be offering anything to rebuild a religious structure? Their insurance and congregation should be picking up the tab, not the public.

    I am not surprised to see a bunch of greedy Greeks trying to make a fast buck, at the expense of the taxpayer. Just look at the total mess Greece is in, thanks to a nation of scamer, schemers and tax dodgers.

    Nobody seems to answer the main questions here –
    (1) Why should public money be spent to rebuild a religious building, Christian, Muslim or otherwise?
    (2) Why do they need a bigger church, when there are probably less than 200 people in the whole congregation of 70 families, most of them elderly?

    If they needed a bigger church, why didn't they build one before 9/11? Why isn't the Greek Archdiocese putting their hand in their pocket to rebuild it?

    Because everyone is looking for the big payday from Uncle Sam, from the Greek Archdiocese to Drakoulias.

    September 11, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  10. stevie68a

    This is how religion tricks people: "prophet" means "profit", your "soles" are on the bottom of your feet, and your "temples" are on the sides of your head. It's all just manipulation.
    Biblical scholars are scholars of folklore.

    September 11, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  11. Peter E

    A couple of things about people's Islamophobic insistence on declaring all muslims terrorists:
    -Al Quaida's own rhetoric will tell you that they aren't fighting for the purpose of religion. They fight the invasion of muslim countries by American forces and the constant murder of muslim people. (what we dismiss as 'colateral' civilian casualties) While they do mention Allah in these rhetorics, it is no different than President Bush's constant rhetoric invoking God in his speeches about Iraq. And yet we don't consider our invasion of Iraq a religious war do we.
    -Al Quaida kills many more muslims than Christians. (a fact we should emphasize) We only know about their attacks on Americans because our media coverage is much more massive. And yet Al Quaida constantly attacks fellow muslims in the very countries we consider their 'safe haven,' like Saud Arabia, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. If you recall, much of the 'Al Quaida in Iraq' attacks were directed against Iraqis. Muslim Iraqis. Not Americans. Check the body counts.
    -If we are going to go into the 'but the Quran explicitely tells muslims to kill infidels in one passage' and all that nonsense, I have a VERY long list of things the Bible says we should do too, starting with the much quoted you-should-kill-disobedient-children, all the way up to Jesus himself telling you to mutilate yourself for all your sins. (paraphrasing: 'If your eye offends you, poke it out, if your hand sins, chop it off., etc.')
    -As for the whole nonsense on who attacked who first, the Roman empire was the one who adapted Christianity as its state religion hundreds of years before Mohamed. And the Romans had a long history of invading the Middle East. They continued to wage war even after converting to Christianity, still hundreds of years before Islam. Islam invaded lands where Christianity itself was an occupier itself. Just ask jewish people about the history of Jerusalem.

    With that said, I think the best way to defeat Al Quaida would be to tell the truth about them, and let muslims know that Al Quaida is more their enemy than ours. They kill more muslims than Christians. Us equating all muslims with Al Quida is counterproductive.

    September 11, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  12. stevie68a

    The Saint Nicholas they're talking about is known as "the patron saint of travelers". Ha! If anything so disproves a religion, it
    gets ignored. This saint is on par with the other Saint Nick, aka Santa Claus.
    It is time to move out of the dark ages, and talk about how divisive and evil religion can be. Whatever good there is in religion, can be had without it. Teach ethics instead.
    This also reminds me of the giant jesus statue that got destroyed by lightning, and the earthquake in christchurch, New Zealand.
    Religion is phony. "god works in mysterious ways" is a pathetic explanation for why these things happen.

    September 11, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  13. Dawn

    The church without a doubt, should be rebuilt. When emotions flare over such an emotional issue (as it should be), it can often be difficult to get things accomplished and people often do not fully hear what the other side is saying.

    It does not sound like a conflict of money, but rather, of the structure itself. The Port Authority say the building cannot interfere with the other GZ plans. The church members hear, it cannot be built, or something close to that effect.

    Build the church in its original location close to its original size and probably add some modern touches.

    The Islamic Center has zero bearing on this particular issue. It is not AT the GZ site, it is on private property that has no bearing on the GZ site and as such, people are free to worship what they want, when they want, where they want.

    September 11, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  14. canadian-muslim-somewhat

    Build a multicultural center instead or don't build it at all. People need to know that small group of terrorists do not represent all muslims. Should I assume that all white people, mainly rednecks are full of hate and are racist because of the KKK?

    September 11, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  15. Limbaugh is a liberal

    1st, yes I agree that this article is not about the mosque, but since everyone else seems to be steering it that way, I'll give my opinion too.
    I wonder what would the American public say if somebody (not I) declared 'I don't think jewish people should be allowed to build in Jerusalem because that's where they murdered Jesus.' That would be about as reasonable an argument as people are putting forth against the mosque. Or how about 'I don't think a Christian church should be built in Oklahoma City because that's where the right-wing Christian extremist Timothy McVeigh murdered hundreds of Americans, including children.' Or 'I don't think Americans should build on Manhattan Island, since that's where they ousted the rightful Native American owners from using tricks and pretending not to understand Native American culture. How insensitive!'

    September 11, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  16. 50percentcotton50percentshroudofturinteeshirts

    No public funds should be alloted for any church.

    The church doesn't pay for fire or police services.

    Let the church play bingo to bankroll their new foolish facade.

    September 11, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  17. kyriloz

    Why does the NY port authority give their blessing for a mosque and not this which was there before it became ground zero.

    September 11, 2010 at 10:11 am |
    • an.empty.suit

      The Port Authority has no authority in regards to what happens on the land the mosque would be built. It is privately held land.

      September 11, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  18. Stuart

    America is, and always has been, a Christian nation. That is the source of the values we hold so dear. Islam attacked America; and no mosque belongs near the site.

    September 11, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  19. jessy

    My thinking is Stacey that if other buildings that were demolished due to the collapsing of the WTC recieved money why shouldn't the church be allowed access to this money?? Why because it is a church? If it is good for some then it should be good for all.

    September 11, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  20. prem_canada

    It is unfortunate to see some of the hate comments in these postings rather than putting up some positive suggestions to get the oneness feeling between all communities . On the contrary, it is totally understandable about the feelings of the families of the victims of 9/11 and the American people in general about the mosque inside the ground zero site. I am wondering why no one is suggesting to put all major religions... a mosque, synagogue, church, temple..., next to each other at ground zero. What I suggest is not have a full scale prayer hall, but to just represent the values of each religion. I strongly believe that this will be a great way to heal the wounds of all victims and those victimized because of 9/11. thanks and peace to humanity

    September 11, 2010 at 9:44 am |
    • Dawn

      This is where you are mistaken. the proposed Islamic center, that also is to have a room for worship is two blocks away from the GZ location.

      The hubbub over it is a smoke and mirrors tactic by politicians to distract Americans from the truly important issues. it is unfortunate that 6-million Muslim Americans are the ones paying the price for this plan.

      The plans for the Islamic center were made public about a year ago, so why, 2 months before midterm elections are we just now having controversy over the issue? Because a politician brought it to the American people's attention in a way that sounded much worse than it actually is and now we have the great distraction.

      September 11, 2010 at 11:32 am |
    • sunsohot

      you need to get this straight – there is no Mosque to be built inside the ground zero site. nor is one even PROPOSED to be built inside the ground zero site.

      September 13, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
    • Hugh

      Actually that doesn't sound like a bad idea. I like that idea! 🙂

      September 13, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.