Ms. Siders, a Long Islander transplanted to Florence, S.C., had been walking with her husband and their two daughters beside the south memorial pool when she caught sight of the 6-foot-3-inch Justinian cross atop the St. Nicholas National Shrine, over the crowns of the tawny oak trees along Liberty Street, silhouetted against the skyscrapers of Wall Street.
“It’s breathtaking,” she said at last.
It is more than that. The topping out of the shrine with the cross was a milestone in the tortuous effort to rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, a little parish outpost at 155 Cedar Street in Lower Manhattan that was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the south trade center tower fell on it.
And it is more than that. The cross is the first overtly religious symbol to appear in the public realm at the World Trade Center, where officials have often contorted themselves to maintain a secular air. (What almost everyone knows as the “World Trade Center cross,” for instance, is officially referred to as the “intersecting steel beam.”)
Less than an hour before Ms. Siders sighted the cross, it stood waiting in front of the shrine, within the elevated Liberty Park, opposite the memorial.
“As we are here and we look around, we see the triumph of human mind and human spirit and human, really, disposition of overcoming any tragedy,” said Archbishop Demetrios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, who has been a constant visitor to ground zero since the earliest days after the attack.
“But St. Nicholas will give an additional message,” he said. “St. Nicholas will also offer the opening towards a nonmaterial reality: the presence of God. So this small chapel here will say the story that there is a God beyond what we see, what we feel and what we could statistically verify. And that’s the very great mission of this new St. Nicholas Church.”
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