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In New York, a small Greek Orthodox church with big ambitions

Saint-Nicolas Church clashes in the middle of the skyscrapers of southern Manhattan. Perched in a green space overlooking the 9/11 Memorial, where the Twin Towers once stood, the small structure is surrounded by cranes and barriers. A few curious people approach to look at its translucent white marble facade, which has the particularity of being illuminated by lights installed behind the wall.

The building will be open to the public in April but is already the center of attention. On November 2, 2021, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomeos Iis, visiting United Stateshad blessed him in a much anticipated ceremony. “It was like a resurrection”, launches Father Alexander Karloutsos.

→ READ. Bartholomeos Iis inaugurates the Orthodox church destroyed on September 11

Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the latter was one of the architects of the fundraising of more than 95 million dollars (84 million euros) necessary for the reconstruction of this place of worship. , the only one to have been destroyed during the terrorist attacks in September 11, 2001. Founded at the beginning of the XXe century, the first Saint-Nicolas church had seen a good number of Greek immigrants arriving on American soil. While this one was relatively discreet, this is not the case with its replacement.

“Parthenon of Orthodoxy”

Described as the “Parthenon of theorthodoxy » in the United States, it hopes to welcome between four and five million visitors a year, Christians or not. “When the World Trade Center site began to be rebuilt, we realized that we could not remake a simple place of worship. We had an obligation to think bigger, sums up Father Karloutsos. New York Catholics do have St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Jews, Temple Emanu-El. We didn’t have a big place to embody our faith. “

The project is part of the desire of the Greek Orthodox Church to be more visible, nearly 150 years after its first steps in the country, in New Orleans. Arrived in 2019, Archbishop Elpidophoros, 53, notably appeared alongside Eric Adams, the future mayor of New York, during the anti-racist Black Lives Matter protests that swept the country after the murder of the African-American George Floyd.

The reason behind these efforts? The Church seeks to grow. According to the Pew Research Center, 1.8 million Orthodox Christians lived on American soil in 2017, or 0.5% of the population. Moreover, according to another 2015 Pew study, only 53% of adults raised in the Orthodox faith still referred to it at the time of the survey, compared to 80% of Hindus and 59% of Catholics, for example.

The Greek Orthodox, the most important branch (they represent 49% of Orthodox in the United States), struggle to recruit among young people, especially descendants of immigrants, who are turning away. “Orthodoxy is not immune to trends affecting other Churches in the Western world, summarizes George Demacopoulos, professor at Fordham University and specialist in Orthodox Christianity. A large number of individuals join Orthodoxy through marriage. But we do not know if this is enough to replace those who turn their backs on religion. “

“An important step”

One thing is certain: the reconstruction of Saint Nicholas is “An important step to recall the heritage of Christian immigrants in the United States”, he continues. The goal of four to five million visitors, or half of the tourists who visit the 9/11 memorial each year, seems achievable. “The Greek Orthodox Diocese of America turned the destruction of a small church into a symbol and an opportunity for evangelism. “

“We will be the only place of worship at the World Trade Center and the most beautiful building in the complex! “, underlines for his part Father Karloutsos, who evokes the many iconographies present in the enclosure of the building. “We are not primarily looking to convert the non-Orthodox. We just want to show that our religion is not just ours. If some want to join us, we will be very happy! “


The Orthodox in the United States, a shattered galaxy

The number of Orthodox Christians in the United States is estimated to be between 1.5 million and 2 million faithful. They bear witness to the great diversity of the 260 million Orthodox around the world. Many belong to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, canonically attached to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, on which the Church of St. Nicholas in New York depends.

The other Autocephalous Churches are also represented, starting with the Moscow Patriarchate. He cohabits with the Orthodox Church in America whose status of autocephaly, granted by Moscow, is not recognized by all the Orthodox.

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