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A search for holiness amid rubble

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  • Fr. John Whiteford
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1 4:17 AM
      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,
      had vanished.

      "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."

      Baltimore ties

      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."

      * * *

      Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun
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