I had a meeting in the Financial District the other day and took the train to the World Trade Center. It’s an area I’m not too familiar with so I always rely on my maps software on my trusty iPhone.
As I emerged from underground and came up the long escalator out of the famed Oculus, I walked outside the Greenwich Street exit into the shadows of the towering skyscrapers that have gone up in recent years.
These towers stand tall, in defiance of the evil forces that attacked my country on September 11, 2001.
But nothing stood taller than the dome I saw as I walked down Greenwich Street.
Although physically much smaller and shorter than the towers surrounding it, the dome of St. Nicholas National Greek Orthodox Shrine and the structure itself, stood amongst the giants like a tiny David with not one Goliath— but several of them surrounding him.
I walked up to the park to take some photos and also watch the construction workers scurry in and out of the building site.
For just a few moments, my thoughts went to the many times I had visited New York City before I moved here and had gone to light a candle at the tiny, humble church that was destroyed on September 11th.
It was the most awkward thing, I remember, a tiny, tall, thin building housing a Greek Orthodox Church in the middle of a parking lot.
Fast forward to my brief visit today as I witnessed marble slabs, mined from the same quarry in Greece where the marble that built the Parthenon came from, were being placed on the outer perimeter of the structure.
What a struggle it’s been to watch the journey of this church from its destruction in 2001, to this very joyous moment.
From the political power plays between state and municipal authorities, to the inept leadership of former Archbishop Demetrios of America whose mishandling of the leadership of this project led to shame, embarrassing media headlines and ultimately, the cessation of construction.
And then there was that dreaded financial “scandal,” also under the nose of Demetrios, during which millions of dollars of money that had been raised from donors throughout the nation and world, in large and small amounts, was used to offset deficits at the Archdiocese on unrelated budget line items.
I thought the financial scandal would be the death knell of the project.
People’s faith and trust in the project, and the Church in general, had been shattered. Donors were angry that their hard-earned dollars that they donated, had been squandered.
Demetrios was forced to resign over the matter and a new Archbishop arrived in America to pick up the pieces.
Fortunately, Archbishop Elpidophoros championed the project from his arrival in the United States, even though much of the heavy lifting had already been done. But even more importantly, one man who deserves all of the credit for rescuing this project, remained committed.
From the outset, Fr. Alexander Karloutsos hit the ground running, carrying the message of St. Nicholas to the nation, the world— and the donors. He fought repeated attacks in the press, both public and anonymous, yet he stayed committed to the rebuilding of this sacred building. Any normal person would have walked away from such unwarranted criticism.
But fortunately for St. Nicholas, Fr. Alex persisted, and persevered and continued carrying the burden— some would even say his Cross, of raising tens of millions of dollars to complete this magnificent new structure, that will not only serve as a home for three generations of Greek Americans whose immigrant foreparts built this parish, but to millions of global citizens in search of a moment of solace and peace.
Tens of millions? Why so much for a church? Is this what the Archdiocese should be spending its money on? Shouldn’t we be feeding the homes and the poor? What about the design? It doesn’t look like a Greek Orthodox Church! Why a Spanish architect when we have so many talented Greek ones? What about the money? Where is the money! Show me the money! Who stole the money?
These are the types of comments and concerns people from every corner of the nation have expressed to me via private conversations and public comments, alike, on The Pappas Post’s various social media channels.
Some are valid questions and concerns, some are personal opinions, while others are not even worth mentioning.
The simple fact remains— and to further my point about Fr. Alex’s contribution to this effort— these are all matters that he never involved himself with. Others decided the budgets, selected the architect and construction companies and other details.
From day one, Karloutsos was given a goal and was sent on his mission to raise the money. He famously told me once during a conversation that he was only responsible for raising the money and thankfully, wasn’t the guy managing the money.
After the scandals came to the forefront and the project was actually halted by the construction company, Fr. Alex quietly continued his mission to ensure past and potential donors to keep the faith, that the truth would come out and the project would continue— that St. Nicholas must be built.
After a new “Friends of St. Nicholas” was formed and a new Administration came to the Archdiocese, promising transparency and a tight management, it was determined that an additional $40 million was needed to complete the project.
Again— questions. Why $40 million? Where is the money going? Why is it costing so much? All of these millions for a church?
Valid questions and most of them have been answered in a transparent manner by the Friends of St. Nicholas via their website and regular newsletters. Everyone won’t agree.
But Fr. Alex didn’t skip a beat and moved forward without associating himself with any of these details. He was tasked with raising the additional $40 million needed to complete the project, according to the experts— and he went on his way, raising the necessary funds from generous benefactors across the country.
He did so faithfully until every last dollar was raised.
So yes, as I sat on that bench and watched the slabs of marble being placed on the edifice of what will soon be St. Nicholas National Greek Orthodox Shrine, I couldn’t help but think all of the people that made this happen… the generous donors, the tireless volunteers, the various organizations that hosted bake sales and festivals to raise money… And Fr. Alex who never lost faith.
I saw a mock up recently of the granite donor wall which will be erected and placed on the property. Names of our community’s millionaires and billionaires who put their hands deep in their pockets for St. Nicholas.
I only hope that the Friends of St. Nicholas will do the right thing and put Fr. Alexander Karloutsos prominently on that granite donor slab, because he deserves to be there ahead of any Archbishop, any donor or any organization.
We need to a better job of giving credit where credit is due. And St. Nicholas would be a great start.
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