Archbishop of America Elpidophoros Says “It’s Our Duty to Rebuild St. Nicholas Church”

New Archbishop Elpidophoros embracing his mother in a touching moment at the beginning of his Enthronement ceremony

The new Archbishop of America, Elpidophoros, who was enthroned in New York on Saturday, declared that it is his duty to rebuild St. Nicholas Church, which was destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

“It is our duty and our responsibility as Orthodox Christians… to complete and open the doors of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine as a witness and vision of what is best and what is beautiful in all people of faith and religious conviction,” Elpidophoros stated in his remarks during his Enthronement.

“I assure you that my heart is ready and steadfast in this task as well,” he told the many hundreds of faithful and dignitaries who were packed into New York’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on Saturday.

Construction of Manhattan’s St. Nicholas Shrine, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was suspended in December of 2017 amid rising costs and questions over how donations to the project were being managed.

An investigative committee indicated that more than $30 million would still need to be raised to complete the building, which now has an estimated total cost of nearly $80 million. Archbishop Elpidophoros told the Associated Press that one of his first actions after the weekend’s enthronement ceremonies would be to convene a fundraising meeting for the Shrine.

“For me and the whole archdiocese, it is the first priority,” he emphasized. “It’s a matter of pride and dignity to finish this church as soon as possible.”

Referring to the memorial plaza at Ground Zero, he added “We know how sacred this place is for the American people. We have to respect that.”

Archbishop Elpidophoros, 51, was unanimously elected by senior Greek Orthodox officials last month to succeed Archbishop Demetrios, who recently retired at age 91 after having served in the post since 1999.

Elpidophoros also stressed in his enthronement address that he will “reach out in a dialogue of love and truth to our ecumenical and interfaith brothers and sisters.”

Included in the many issues he hopes to address “with a sense urgency,” he said, are those of the Orthodox youth, as well as theological education in the Orthodox Church.

“We must be a Church that embraces our young people… Our young people face an ever-growing deluge of information and access to knowledge that is unprecedented. The Church— which means all of us — must be ready to meet our youth where they live and where they learn: in our communities, on college campuses, with all of the range and resources of social media at our disposal,” Elpidophoros declared.

The new Archbishop acknowledged the contributions of his predecessor, Demetrios, in remarks which elicited spontaneous warm applause, a scene repeated at the dinner which followed. Demetrios departs having earned the Diaspora’s love as an ethical and devoted leader of the Orthodox Church.

A luncheon was held in honor of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America at the New York Hilton following the Enthronement ceremony at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Photo: Dimitros Panagos

“I recognize those who have preceded me in this glorious and blessed Archdiocese, all those who have shaped and defined this exceptional church. These include first His Eminence Demetrios, who has honored me with his presence today in order to transmit to me the church that he so faithfully and attentively ministered for two decades,” Elpidophoros stated warmly.

He continued, saying he also recognized “Archbishop Iakovos, who boldly walked beside Martin Luther King Junior against the cultural tide of the time and even against the advice of his peers. And above all, the inspired pioneer Athenagoras, who recognized the importance of breaking down barriers with other church confessions and faith communities.”

From its national headquarters in New York City, the Archdiocese oversees 540 parishes across the US, which are served by about 800 priests.

“It will be a challenge for me to get to know all of the different places,” the new archbishop admitted in his address. “I have to travel to all our parishes… Already, my schedule is full for next three months,” he added. Elpidophoros taught for one semester at Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary in Boston in 2004 and he has made several other brief trips to the US.