Eastern Orthodoxy

Striving to build the Kingdom of Heaven with timber, stucco, brick and iron

Striving to build the Kingdom of Heaven with timber, stucco, brick and iron

When Andrew Gould began designing a sanctuary for Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Charleston, S.C., he started by creating an imaginary backstory for the parish.

Instead of beginning with a circle of Orthodox families and converts in 1996, the art historian and architect imagined that a community of Russian immigrants had moved to Charleston in the mid-19th century. They looked at the city's famous mix of Southern warmth, Colonial style and coastal, Mediterranean influences and then built a church that was thoroughly Orthodox -- but fit into Charleston.

Working with local materials as much as possible, Gould designed a Byzantine church, but with a copper roof, plenty of exposed Heart Pine wood and stucco masonry painted in a gold-yellow tint common in historic Charleston. Then he included a unique saw-tooth cornice design, using local brownish-red brick, a pattern that had the added advantage of resembling traditions in Russia.

"I kept asking myself, 'What parts of Charleston's architecture could be baptized into Orthodoxy? What if this church had been built by Russians long ago and it's been here ever since and it looks totally at home in Charleston?", he said, describing the 2004 project that opened a new stage of his career.

"I have a kind of romanticized fantasy about the history of these churches and I have used this technique in other places. Keeping this kind of story in mind keeps me focused on what I'm trying to accomplish."

This goal shapes the work that Gould and other artisans do with his New World Byzantine Studios in Charleston, whether it's designing an entire church, one of his massive, circular ironwork chandeliers or other forms of liturgical art and church supplies. The goal is to maintain ancient forms and traditions, while blending in cultural, historical influences seen in life in a specific region.

For example, what would a Pueblo-style monastery in New Mexico look like if it were Orthodox, instead of Catholic, and featured altar cloths, carvings and icon-stand decorations influenced by Native American culture?

Telling the Nativity story, with help of two foster boys

Night after night, Jesse and Kelly Cone led their children through some of the most familiar verses in all of Christianity. The goal was to use the quiet pre-Christmas season of Advent -- or Nativity Lent in their Eastern Orthodox parish in Santa Maria, Calif. -- to help their young sons grasp the meaning of Feast of the Nativity, which begins Dec. 25th and continues for 12 days. This isn't easy in a culture in which the powers that be roll out the Christmas bandwagon with the Halloween candy, well before the Thanksgiving turkey.

Each night at their simple Lenten meals the Cones opened a bag containing a verse or two of scripture, and four pieces of candy. The story started slowly, with all the familiar details about Roman politics, taxes, a census and a man named Joseph, making a precarious journey with his pregnant wife, Mary.

Then came this crucial detail, the moment when Mary "brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

All of this was familiar territory for the two Cone sons, but not for the two foster children living with the family.

"These boys were new to the Nativity story, but they certainly knew all about being homeless and alone," explained Kelly Cone, reached by telephone.

In a post online, that has since gone viral, she described the turning point: "Then we reached the part of the story where Mary and Joseph were forced to stay in a stable outside, cold and alone. No one had any room for them. They did the best they could, even though it was lower than low.

"I looked up at our 10-year-old foster boy, and his head was bowed, his face drawn and serious. Unlike his 5-year-old happy-go-lucky brother beside him, he remembers. He remembers the cold nights sleeping on the street or in someone's car because his mother had nowhere safe for him to stay. Instead of protecting him and reaching out for help, she eventually abandoned him at a mobile home park."

The 10-year-old boy -- who cannot be named due to privacy issues -- had tears in his eyes. Kelly Cone asked him how he thought Mary and Joseph must have felt.

"Sad. Cold," he replied.

From that moment on, the Cones knew this would not be an ordinary Advent and Christmas. There were children at their table who were hearing the Nativity story for the first time and, day after day, this reality began to gnaw at the Cones "like a bad toothache," she said.

The questions kept coming. Yes, the baby in the manger is the same Jesus they heard about at church. Yes, Christians really believes that the Son of God was born in a manger, without a home to call his own. Yes, shepherds in that part of the world had to sleep out in the cold while protecting their sheep from, among other threats, lions. Yes, coming face to face with an army of angels probably freaked the shepherds out.

While his wife processed her thoughts online, Jesse Cone shared these Advent dinner vignettes with students at the Christian high school where he teaches.

"Every kid knows the story, and every kid there has read a lot of theology. ... I told the story at our Christmas chapel -- not as eloquently as my wife did -- and people were crying," he said. As it turns out, "not only can you get a better view of the Nativity story by spending time with homeless boys than at the mall, you can see it better than you can from a theology department."

In California, he noted, people sing all kinds of Christmas carols that make references to snow and this becomes normal, even when snow is something that they rarely if every experience. The snow exists in their minds and they are comfortable with that. Sadly, the same thing tends to happen with the Nativity story itself.

All of these details, added Jesse Cone, are "artifacts we appreciate from a distance. That's what Christ meant for these boys before actually hearing the story, and that's how it can become for many of us as well."

But not this Christmas: This year the story came home for real.

On the separation of church and history

On the night he was betrayed, the rabbi from Nazareth gave blunt, by mysterious, instructions about the rite that would forever be at the center of Christian life. The Gospel of St. Luke reports: "He took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you."

These images mystified the faith's Roman critics. In his multi-media project "Church History Made Easy," Baptist scholar Timothy Paul Jones noted that one ancient pagan wrote this vivid speculation about Christian worship: "An infant is covered with dough, to deceive the innocent. The infant is placed before the person who is to be stained with their rites. The young pupil slays the infant. Thirstily, they lick up the blood! Eagerly they tear apart its limbs."

How can anyone learn these kinds of human details, asked Jones, and come away thinking that history is boring? The stories and lessons of church history are especially important, he said, for millions of evangelical Protestants who attend the many modern megachurches -- flocks with few, if any, denomination ties that bind -- that have helped reshape the landscape of American religious life.

"Taking church history seriously helps us sink our roots into something deeper than the present," said Jones, who teaches at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "One of the dangers of this whole post-denominational world we live in is that people can lose their rootedness and lose a sense that generations of Christians have passed the faith on to us."

This is especially important in the age of "The Da Vinci Code" and other works of popular culture that can leave people thinking that "there is no heresy and that there is no orthodoxy," he said, in a telephone interview. "What you're left with is a lot of competing voices and the sense that everything is up for grabs."

This is tricky territory for Protestants in churches born through the work of John Calvin, Martin Luther and other reformers who -- to varying degrees -- questioned the authority of ancient traditions preserved in Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. It's even harder to stress church history, said Jones, in today's rapidly changing independent churches that embrace modern media and other marketplace trends.

In these flocks, "tradition" is often measured in months or years, not centuries.

Thus, Jones opened the "Church History Made Easy" book with a reference, not to St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, Calvin, Luther or even Billy Graham, but to a classic "Peanuts" strip by the late Charles Schultz. In it, Sally Brown is writing a paper on "church history." To address this subject, she writes, "We have to go back to the very beginning. Our pastor was born in 1930."

Digging into ancient church history can leave some Protestants -- both liberals and conservatives -- facing questions about which traditions to embrace, which to adapt and which to avoid. Take, for example, the penitential season of Lent that leads to Easter.

One Baptist progressive, Central Baptist Theological Seminary President Molly T. Marshall, recently noted that "since the earliest times of the Church, there is evidence of some kind of Lenten preparation in the 40 days leading up to Easter (not counting the Sundays.) After the legalization of Christianity in CE 313, Lent developed patterns that continue, at least in the West."

In recent years, she added, something unusual has happened: "Many Baptists are learning the significance of paying attention to Lent."

Some Baptists will welcome that kind of connection to church history, noted Jones, while others will not. His own congregation recently observed Ash Wednesday, "ashes and all," leading some Southern Baptists to think "we've gone Catholic," he said.

The goal is not to uncritically accept symbols, rites and experiences merely because they are ancient, he said. For evangelicals, the goal is find what they believe is the doctrinal core that they share with Catholics, the Orthodox and other believers through the ages.

"There is what C.S. Lewis called a 'mere Christianity,' a core of Christian tradition that can serve as our touchstone," he said. "There was an orthodoxy -- with a little 'o' -- a tradition you can trace back to the apostles. That's why church history matters."

From Texas Baptist to Orthodox saint?

Wherever bishops travel, churches plan lavish banquets and other solemn tributes to honor their hierarchs.

Visitations by Archbishop Dmitri Royster of the Orthodox Church in America were different, since the faithful in the 14-state Diocese of the South knew that one memorable event would take care of itself. All they had to do was take their leader to a children's Sunday school class and let him answer questions.

During a 1999 visit to Knoxville, Tenn., the lanky Texan folded down onto a kid-sized chair and faced a circle of pre-school and elementary children. With his long white hair and flowing white beard, he resembled an icon of St. Nicholas -- as in St. Nicholas, the monk and 4th century bishop of Myra.

As snacks were served, a child asked if Dmitri liked his donuts plain or with sprinkles. With a straight face, the scholarly archbishop explained that he had theological reasons -- based on centuries of church tradition -- for preferring donuts with icing and sprinkles.

A parent in the back of the room whispered: "Here we go." Some of the children giggled, amused at the sight of the bemused bishop holding up a colorful pastry as if he was performing a ritual.

"In Orthodoxy, there are seasons in which we fast from many of the foods we love," he said. "When we fast, we should fast. But when we feast, we should truly feast and be thankful." Thus, he reasoned, with a smile, that donuts with sprinkles and icing were "more Orthodox" than plain donuts.

Archbishop Dmitri made that Knoxville trip to ordain yet another priest in his diocese, which grew from a dozen parishes to 70 during his three decades. The 87-year-old missionary died last Sunday (Aug. 28) in his simple bungalow -- complete with leaky kitchen roof -- next to Saint Seraphim Cathedral, the parish he founded in 1954. Parishioners were worried the upstairs floor might buckle under the weight of those praying around his deathbed.

The future archbishop was raised Southern Baptist in the town of Teague, Texas, before moving to Dallas. As teens, Royster and his sister became intrigued with the history of the major Christian holidays and began visiting a variety of churches, including an Orthodox parish. The services were completely in Greek, but they joined anyway -- decades before evangelical-to-Orthodox conversions became common.

During World War II the young Texan learned Japanese in order to interrogate prisoners of war, while serving on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's staff. A gifted linguist, he later taught Greek and Spanish classes on the campus of Southern Methodist University. While training to serve in the OCA, which has Russian roots, he learned Old Russian and some modern Russian.

Early in his priesthood, the Dallas parish was so small that Dmitri helped his sister operate a restaurant to support the ministry, thus becoming a skilled chef who was famous for his hospitality and love of cooking for his flocks. During his years as a missionary bishop, driving back and forth from Dallas to Miami, monks in New Orleans saved him packages of his favorite chicory coffee and Hispanic parishioners offered bottles of homemade hot sauce, which he stashed in special slots in his Byzantine mitre's traveling case.

A pivotal moment in his career came just before the creation of the Diocese of the South. In 1977, then Bishop Dmitri was elected -- in a landslide -- as the OCA metropolitan, to lead the national hierarchy in Syosset, New York. But the ethnic Slavic core in the synod of bishops ignored the clergy vote and appointed one of its own.

Decades later, the Orthodox theologian Father Thomas Hopko described the impact of that election this way: "One could have gone to Syosset and become a metropolitan, or go to Dallas and become a saint."

The priest ordained in Tennessee on that Sunday back in 1999 shared this judgment, when reacting to the death of "Vladika" (in English, "master") Dmitri.

"There are a number of saints within Orthodox history who are given the title, 'Equal to the Apostles,' " noted Father J. Stephen Freeman of Oak Ridge. "I cannot rush beyond the church and declare a saint where the church has not done so, but I can think of no better description of the life and ministry of Vladika Dmitri here in the South than 'Equal to the Apostles.' "

An Orthodox question for 2010

The first Orthodox missionaries to reach Alaska traveled with the early Russian explorers and, in 1794, a party of monks established the Orthodox Christian Mission to America. When Orthodox believers venerate icons of the "Saints of North America," many of the images are of missionaries. One is St. Herman of Alaska, a pioneer monk, and another is St. Innocent, an early missionary bishop. Then there is St. Tikhon of Moscow, who envisioned one united Orthodox body in America, a church without ethnic divisions. He later became Russia's patriarch, but died a martyr in the Bolshevik era.

"Before the 1920s, there was only one jurisdiction in North America -- that of the Russian Orthodox Church, which, as we know, was open to ... the widest variety of ethnic communities," said Archbishop Justinian of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, during last week's Episcopal Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Hierarchs in North and Central America.

"Much has changed since that time. The tumultuous events of the 20th Century forced many citizens of traditionally Orthodox countries to leave their native homes and seek refuge in other countries, which led to the rise of large ethnic Orthodox communities beyond the boundaries of corresponding local churches."

But the key to conditions today, he stressed, is the fact that an "increasing number of our faithful belong to the Orthodox Church not as the result of their ethnic background, but of a conscious choice in favor of Orthodoxy's truth."

There's the rub, the source of one of the tensions that pulled the bishops behind tightly closed doors in New York City. Even in the public speech texts, it was clear they were wrestling with this question: Is America best described as a mission field in which Orthodoxy is growing or as a strange land in which immigrants have found shelter during a painful diaspora era?

How the hierarchs answer that question will help shape the future, especially if there is to be a way to unite Greeks, Russians, Arabs, Ukrainians, Serbs, Romanians and other Orthodox believers into one American church, with one hierarchy -- as required by Orthodox tradition.

If America is truly a mission field, that would favor the Russian roots of the Orthodox Church in America, which now worships in English. Its claim to be an autocephalous, or independent, national church is based on a declaration to that effect by leaders of the giant Russian Orthodox Church. Meanwhile, a "diaspora" framework favors leadership claims by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Istanbul, the symbolic, "first among equals" of the Orthodox patriarchs.

Last week's assembly was led by Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and was one of 12 meetings in regions containing multiple Orthodox bodies. However, Demetrios declined Bartholomew's request to exclude Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America. Jonah was seated as a bishop -- but not as the OCA primate. He is a convert to the faith.

At this point, said Demetrios, it's impossible to end the overlapping jurisdictions, which means that bishops from ethnically defined flocks control their own parishes in the same locations. America is both a mission field and part of a diaspora phenomenon caused by immigration, he said. So the new Episcopal Assembly is in control -- for now.

"The vital presence of our churches ... world bears witness to the ongoing work of pastoral care of our flocks who have moved around the globe," he said. "It also bears witness to the continuous preaching of the Gospel that has brought an abundance of converts to the faith. Neither of these realities stands in opposition to the other. They are merely the facts of our existence."

But it's time to see the big picture, stressed Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, another flock affected by thousands of converts. If anyone is living in diaspora, he claimed, it's the tiny Orthodox flocks in Jerusalem, Constantinople and other besieged Old World cities.

Meanwhile, the Orthodox in America, he said, are "no longer little children to have rules imposed on us from 5,000 miles away. Orthodoxy in America has its own ethos. We have our own theological institutions and we have our own theologians, authors, publications and magazines. ... We have been here for a long, long time and we are very grateful to the Almighty God that in our theology and worship, we do express the fullness of the Holy Orthodox faith."

Beyond Orthodox folk dancing

These were the sad, sobering conversations that priests have when no one else is listening.

Father John Peck kept hearing other priests pour out their frustrations on the telephone. Some, like Peck, were part of the Orthodox Church in America, a church with Russian roots that has been rocked by years of high-level scandals. But others were active in churches with "old country" ties back to other Eastern Orthodox lands.

"These men really felt that their churches weren't getting anywhere," he said. "They kept saying, 'What am I giving my life for? What have I accomplished?' I kept trying to cheer them up, telling them to look 20 years down the road. ... I told them to try to see the bigger picture."

Eventually, the 46-year-old priest wrote an article about the positive Orthodox trends in America, as well as offering candid talk about the problems faced by some of his friends. He finished "The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow" soon after arriving at the Greek Orthodox mission in Prescott, Ariz., and sent it to the American Orthodox Institute -- which published the article in late September on its website.

Bishops, priests and laypeople -- some pleased, some furious -- immediately began forwarding Peck's article from one end of Orthodox cyberspace to the other. I received some of these urgent emails, since I am an Orthodox convert whose name is on several public websites.

After a few days, Peck asked that his article be pulled offline. Now the question is whether, after a scheduled Oct. 16 conference with his bishop, he will still have a job.

While his article addressed several hot-button topics -- from fundraising to sexual ethics -- Peck said it was clear which theme caused the firestorm.

"The notion that traditionally Orthodox ethnic groups (the group of 'our people' we hear so much about from our primates and hierarchs) are going to populate the ranks of the clergy, and therefore, the Church in the future is, frankly, a pipe dream," he wrote. The reality is that many American clergy and laity -- some converts, but many ethnic leaders as well -- refuse to "accept the Church as a club of any kind, or closed circle kaffeeklatsch. No old world embassies will be tolerated for much longer. ...

"The passing away of the Orthodox Church as ethnic club is already taking place. It will come to fruition in a short 10 years, 15 years in larger parishes."

Church statistics are, as a rule, almost impossible to verify. However, experts think there are 250 million Orthodox believers worldwide -- the second largest Christian flock -- and somewhere between 1.2 and 5 million worshipping in the 22 ethnic jurisdictions in North America. That huge statistical gap is crucial.

The problem is that Orthodoxy is experiencing two conflicting trends in America. Some parishes and missions are growing, primarily due to an influx of converts -- especially evangelicals -- from other churches. Meanwhile, many larger congregations are getting older, while watching the children and grandchildren of their ethnic founders assimilate into the American mainstream.

Thus, many Orthodox leaders are excited about the future. Others are just as frustrated about their problems in the here and now.

Thriving American parishes, said Peck, are finding ways to blend some of the traditions of the old world with strong efforts to build churches that welcome newcomers, whether they are converts or the so-called ethnic "reverts" who rediscover the church traditions of earlier generations.

The best place to see the big picture, he said, is in America's Orthodox seminaries. One study found that nearly half of the future priests are converts and that percentage is sure to be higher in the evangelistic churches that emphasize worship and education in English.

"When I talk about the churches of the future, I'm not talking about churches without ethnic roots," said Peck. "What I'm talking about are churches in which there are no barriers to prevent people from working and living and worshipping together. It doesn't matter whether the people inside are Greek or Hispanic or Arab or Asian or Russian or Polynesian or anything else.

"All of these people are supposed to be in our churches, together, if we are going to get serious about building Orthodoxy in America. It's no longer enough to have folk dancing and big ethnic festivals. Those days are over."

One man comes home to Orthodoxy

When Peter Maris' father arrived from Greece the U.S. immigration officer couldn't understand his last name and "Margaris" became "Maris."

When his mother's Jewish parents arrived from Poland they added "ski" to their name because they thought "Rafalski" sounded Catholic and, thus, would be safer.

And when Kathleen Rafalski married Dennis Maris, she immediately joined the St. Demetrios Orthodox Church in Hammond, Ind.

"They were married in the Greek church," said Peter Maris, 42. "She learned to speak Greek. She learned to cook Greek. She did everything she could to show her commitment to the faith."

Then came the parish Christmas party when his mother brought a plate of Polish cookies. His father didn't tell this story often, because it was too painful.

"Some of the women got upset," said Peter Maris. "They told my mother, 'What are you doing, bringing those in here? We don't need you and we don't need your Polish cookies. We are Greek.' "

The family walked out and never returned.

Now, nearly four decades later, Maris has come home to Eastern Orthodoxy -- just in time for "Pascha" (Easter in the West).

This is one man's story, but it contains elements of stories told by thousands of converts in an era when this old-world faith is growing in a land already packed with Protestant and Catholic churches. In most communities, Orthodox parishes are known as the "Greek church" or the "Russian church" or carry some other ethnic label.

This is one man's story and it happens to be a story that I first overheard in the fellowship hall of my own Orthodox parish. What is different about this minister named Maris is that his story combines both the joy and pain experienced by "converts" and "cradles" -- those born into Orthodoxy -- who are learning to live and worship together in an ancient church that is quietly sinking its roots into modern America.

Maris has tasted the bitter and the sweet.

There are an estimated 250 million Orthodox believers worldwide -- the second largest Christian flock -- but only 1.2 million in the 22 ethnic jurisdictions in North America. While a few leaders have raised eyebrows by claiming a 6 percent annual growth rate, an accurate count would have to account for ethnic members who are drifting out of Orthodoxy as well as converts who are joining.

It's safer to count U.S. parishes and watch clergy trends. The convert-friendly Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese has, for example, grown from 66 parishes to 250 parishes and missions in four decades. Also, a recent survey found that 43 percent of today's seminarians are converts, a percentage that must be higher among the Antiochians and in the Orthodox Church in America, which sprang from Russian roots.

Maris is unusual, since he was baptized Orthodox before finding his way into evangelicalism. He met his Baptist wife at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, did graduate degrees at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and worked in Korean Presbyterian and Chinese Christian churches before being ordained as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

"For the longest time, I could only see Orthodoxy through the eyes of my childhood," he said. "For me, Orthodoxy was an ethnic ghetto. ... In many ways, I came back to the church kicking and screaming. But in the end I knew this was where I was supposed to be. There was no place else I could go."

Maris can still speak some Greek and he has been experiencing flashbacks to early memories of the taste of Communion wine, the smell of incense, echoes of Byzantine hymns and glimpses of an icon of Jesus, high in a sanctuary dome.

However, he also remembers his parents' conflicting emotions as their new American dreams clashed with old ethnic traditions. He witnessed similar dramas in Korean and Chinese churches.

"You want to keep the language and you want to keep the food and all of that, somehow, gets mixed in with the traditions of the church," he said. "Then the parents discover that they just can't communicate with their kids and the kids just can't appreciate what is happening in church because that's all wound up with the ethnicity thing. ...

"At some point you have to claim the faith as your own -- you can't inherit it. In the end, you have to believe."

Sept. 11 -- Dreams of St. Nicholas

The first thing police found at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was a piece of a wing and landing gear from American Flight 11.

Then the World Trade Center's north tower fell on the humble, white-washed walls of the tiny sanctuary across the street. It took time for work crews to find much of anything after that.

Eventually they found a paper icon of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos, but never found its frame or silver cover. They found an embroidered velvet cloth, but not the Bible it covered. They found a bell clapper, but not the bell. They found a silver hand in prayer, a wooden icon of a healing fountain, fragments of the marble altar, a twisted piece of a candelabrum and beeswax candles that survived the hellfire from above.

Church officials recovered part of a ceremonial book of New Testament epistles, with the smell of smoke in every page.

But the faithful have yet to recover the 700-pound fireproof steel safe from the office, the one containing the golden ossuary with its fragments of the bones of three saints, including their patron. St. Nicholas of Myra is the 4th century saint who in Western lands has evolved into St. Nick. Father John Romas explained all of this to workers at the New Jersey landfill as they sifted through mountains of rubble from ground zero.

"I told them about the relics of St. Nicholas and St. Katherine and St. Sava," said Romas, priest at St. Nicholas for almost two decades and a chanter for years before that. "I told them about the safe on the top floor. I described everything in detail. But our little church was gone. There were no windows, no doors, no walls -- nothing."

The priest paused, trying to find English words for his emotions.

"What can we say? Someone may have picked up a gold box thinking there would be money in it and then they threw everything else away. Who knows? Who knows? Who knows? But this we do know -- we will rebuild our church."

The parish's 80 families have every reason to be hopeful, said Romas, as they wait for city, state and regional officials to solve what the New York Times calls an "urban-planning Rubik's Cube." The goal? Build 10 million square feet of commercial space and rebuild lower Manhattan's infrastructure, while creating a towering architectural masterpiece that honors those lost on a day that changed the city, the nation and the world.

Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church in America has received assurances from New York Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the sanctuary can be rebuilt next to the World Trade Center site. Architect Daniel Libeskind's winning design for the site and memorial also includes St. Nicholas, the only church that was destroyed.

And the parish (www.stnicholasnyc.org) does control its site at 155 Cedar Street. But the old building was only 22 feet wide, 56 feet long and 35 feet high. Church leaders hope to raise funds to buy additional property to build a slightly larger church, in anticipation of new families and visitors to the Sept. 11 memorial.

The building that became St. Nicholas was built in 1832 as a private residence and even spent several years as a tavern. Greek immigrants bought it in 1916 and it was dedicated as a church the next year. Part of the church's charm was its size -- a Byzantine haven dwarfed by steel, glass, concrete and stress.

Every Wednesday, St. Nicholas invited workers and executives to spend the lunch hour in prayer.

In the future, Wednesdays will not be enough.

"Downtown New York City is crazy. It's another world. Yet when you stepped inside St. Nicholas you were taken someplace totally different," said John Pitsikalis, the parish council president. "You literally had the hubbub of the whole world of commerce only a few steps away and yet here was this small zone of peace and quiet and beauty.

"You would come in and the air would be still, the candles would be lit, there would be soft liturgical music and you would be surrounded by the icons. ... People needed that place of sanctuary and that is what we have to have again."