A search for holiness amid rubble
- Published in the Baltimore Sun, September 30, 2001
A search for holiness amid rubble
Greek Orthodox priest seeks relics of saints, while hoping to rebuild
By M. Dion Thompson
Sun National Staff
NEW YORK, September 30, 2001 (BS) -- The heart of St. Nicholas Greek
Orthodox Church lies buried at ground zero. Precious relics sacred to
the community's worship have yet to be found.
The Rev. John Romas, who has served at St. Nicholas for 17 years, can
only hope that they survived the destruction that followed the
terrorist attack Sept. 11 on the nearby World Trade Center.
He has been to the area more than once to look for a safe containing
the relics. His first visit was on the day after the attack. He found
that his church, which once stood 250 feet from the center's towers,
"My church was down on the ground. It was 15-feet-high debris," said
Romas. "I started to cry. Then I looked to my left side and there
were so many people who had died."
Donations from as far away as Greece and Italy have poured in to help
rebuild the tiny church. Additional funds are coming in as part of a
general appeal by the Greek Orthodox Church in America.
The Rev. Constantine M. Monios of Baltimore's Greek Orthodox
Cathedral of the Annunciation estimates that the city's Orthodox
community has donated about $10,000. The parishioners at the
cathedral have a special connection to St. Nicholas. Romas' wife,
Lorraine, sews many of the vestments worn by the church's priests.
"We're all trying to raise funds to rebuild that church," said
For years, St. Nicholas stood at 155 Cedar St., in the middle of New
York's financial district, American and Greek flags flying near its
doors. In what had been a residence and later a tavern, the tiny
church remained as the neighborhood around it changed and skyscrapers
cast their long shadows across its doors.
Founded 85 years ago, the church moved to the Cedar Street address in
1922. It originally served the Greek immigrants who once lived in the
area. Sailors arriving in New York stopped there to light candles and
give thanks for their successful voyages. St. Nicholas is the patron
saint of travelers.
In recent years, the church opened Wednesdays and became a place of
spiritual comfort and meditative peace in lower Manhattan.
Now Romas is on a mission to retrieve the sacred relics of Sts.
Nicholas, Katherine and Sava. They had been kept in a safe on the
church's top floor.
City officials discouraged an early attempt to search the ruins,
citing the danger in the area.
Still, Romas and Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox
Church in America, were able to visit the site and offer prayers.
Nikki Stephanopoulos, a spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese,
said the relics are "the most sacred part of the altar. ... A liturgy
cannot be held without the relics."
Part of worship
As part of his search, Romas recently made a trip to the vast Fresh
Kills landfill in Staten Island. Investigators there are poring over
material brought in from the World Trade Center. He left with nothing
more than hope.
"They told me if they find something they'll tell me," he said.
Sacred relics are a crucial part of worship in the Greek Orthodox
community. Their role dates to the early Christians, who often held
services over the tombs of martyrs and other revered members of the
Church, said Monios.
Veneration of relics continued after the Emperor Constantine ended
the persecution of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Today, every
Greek Orthodox church receives relics at its consecration.
"It reminds us of the early years of persecution and how the church
survived then," said Monios. "There has to be an attempt to retrieve
those relics. ... We can't just let them be thrown into a barge, or
Romas said he will keep trying to retrieve the relics of St.
Nicholas, but if he cannot, then he will appeal to the archdiocese
for help in acquiring another set for his church.
His main goal, however, is that St. Nicholas will return to its old
home on Cedar Street.
"St. Nicholas will rebuild, no question about it," said Romas. "That
church will be a memorial to all of those people down there,
including St. Nicholas."
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Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun