Dear Readers and Guarantors.
I choose not to respond to those who used my name in their recent article in TNH. In my original message, I tried to expose the celebrated architect Santiago Calatrava whose structures seemed to come in as always over budget, past completion promises with a number of engineering design flaws. But you know this from the outside media press. My hope here was to have Orthodox artisans complete the Shrine project so that we faithful could have a profound Greek Orthodox influence in its realization.
Further, I know, like and admire a number of people in the Guarantor group and would think it unseemly if, I retorted personally.
Now, allow me if you will, to take you on another decidedly different, perhaps controversial slant concerning the Shrine. Let’s take our hard driving immigrant business sensibilities to the top of our Shrine thinking.
I recognize that the shrine issue has been discussed ad infinitum, yet among Greek Orthodox it is even today a seething topic, knowing what has happened in the past. The exorbitant costs, missing funds, perhaps stolen or misused. The pronouncements of our esteemed AB Elpidophoros and the fine people of “Friends of St. Nicholas” leaders who declared the completion of the shrine to be on the same level as the start of the fight for Greek Independence, which has a really fine “patriotic” ring.
But wait a moment, what are we trying to do? Greek Independence should be acclaimed on its own. The shrine should have its own notoriety, not enveloped in the Greek flag.
This is America! I am of Greek descent. I wear my Greekness with reverence and elation, sometimes with exuberance, other times in quietness.
As a father, I sorrow over my children who have strayed from the Orthodox reservation to Christian pastures elsewhere. So here we are attempting to build an edifice, a tribute to God, a church type building which God neither wants or needs which, I declare is an abomination in the use of hard earned resources.
What are we trying to do? Out Pope the Catholics, build the Parthenon, have a society of faiths from Muslims to who knows what occupy niche spaces in “our” shrine to propagate their own faiths? In one fell swoop, has Orthodoxy become the “Kumbaya” to and of all religions?
I ask you dear Orthodox brethren, does this real time scenario sound like an endeavor God would approve, or that you would want as a church, or an investment?
Now would you barring ego and ethnic pride, spend up to $80 perhaps $100 million to construct a building which would cost, $22,000 plus per square foot? Then taking into account, the added expenses of regular maintenance, payrolls, building upkeep, utilities, repairs and future replacement costs for a structure and facility which can only hold 100 people at any given time and would surely have inherent faults you did not own? I said, we would not own!
Why at this time, would you want to be involved in what I believe, to be a blunder which further exacerbates the turmoil in our beloved Greek Church when, we are already so vulnerable and exposed from the past 25 years of decay and backsliding?
The answer, I believe may be in these suggestions which I humbly offer:
Sell, yes sell our “land rights” to the Shrine to those who would love the notoriety and the prestige of the location. Purchasing candidates would include: the Lutheran, Catholic and Presbyterian Churches, Baptists and other possible Christian denominations which might be interested. This effort of course has not been attempted or pursued. Shame.
Then we Greeks can use the money from the sale to perhaps purchase a nearby property and build a magnificent edifice to God, using Greek Orthodox architects and artisans, on land we would own. Ok, now I can hear the criticism. We have gone too far in this project; we are morally committed, and publicly obligated, how dare you bring this up in this way at this late time, etc. My response would be:
The Shrine as situated is not in the same location nor the same configuration or does it even compare to the same size as before; the current location is only loaned to our church by the Port Authority, to be used by our church, it is not sacred ground as it certainly does not contain any relics of a saint. It’s just an offal chunk of ground allowed to us only to just placate and keep we Orthodox quiet. Further, there is no parking for the many potential tourists and faithful who would come to pray and rest and lastly, the zooming traffic on the surrounding streets make it extremely hazardous for pedestrians. Perhaps the only exposure the Shrine will receive will be visitors as a result of its dependence on tour buses. Imagine, a beautiful sanctuary kept open and alive at the mercy of tour buses. What a way to invest $80 plus million!
Vanessa and Readers, I pray you are still with me. This concerns our beloved faith. I am writing this, as you are reading this message while the work and the heavy spending on the Shrine is continuing. I did not intend to load you up with this sort of notice. Our famous and esteemed author Nicholas Gage offered an eloquent passage on supporting the St. Calatrava Shrine. Too bad Mr Gage’s talents were not used to bring some awakening to our Guarantors. To be honest, the haughty manner in which this Shrine matter has been handled from the beginning has not only polarized the Greek community but has created much worldwide attention and embarrassment.
Your success has earned the admiration and respect of your/our people. Do you realize that you represent a wholesome aspiration for many of us to emulate your achievements as you in all probability, started your careers at the entry level. So what is the guy selling fruit and produce on the sidewalk in front of a store he or she does not own, the peddler selling hot dogs or an always tired restaurant operator or a worker in a machine shop or office, all working to earn enough money to be able to put food on the table for their families and send their children to college.
What do these salt of the earth Orthodox people quietly think and privately say when you Guarantors are soliciting their money once again, to complete the soon to cost perhaps $100 million for the St. Calatrava Shrine?
Should the Shrine location Land Rights be sold, a portion of the monies could be used to establish/replenish the Clergy Pension fund, be used as low cost loans to parishes for repairs, expansion or new construction of churches, auditoriums and the purchase of new ground.
Again, just think! Almost up to $100 million to be spent on a tiny piece of dirt that we do not own. And this at a time when our beloved church is on the cusp of bankruptcy and failure.
At what price glory, what price fame?
I appeal to those who still profess to know me, put your emotions, gallantry and the Greek flag aside. This is America, the place where we have astutely and perseveringly worked hard and long hours to succeed. I personally know that retreat and reboot is painful, and runs counter to our Greek ethos. Yet I believe you know in your hearts and minds, there is a better way to preserve the sanctity and memory of the St. Nicholas Church destroyed on 911. Put on your business hard hats on and do the right thing for our Faith, our kids and family.
This entire Shrine effort in retrospect is turning out to be a Trojan horse in reverse. The first time it was tried by our ancient forebears it was a success. This second time turned out in a manner we Greeks would have never imagined. It’s time to pull up the stakes dear Guarantors. We can leave this Shrine building location with heads high, egos neatly in place and money in our pockets to buy and build a magnificent tribute to God, in a nearby adequate space, a building welcoming all, using Greek craftsmen and women for a lot less money and have a building we would own, yes own and with millions to spare.
May I leave you with this message from AB Averky of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery:
“The destructive spirit of Apostasy has already penetrated even our Orthodox Church, extremely prominent hierarchs of which openly are proclaiming the approach of some sort of ‘new era’ and cynically are proposing being done with all the past as they assemble to create some kind of completely ‘new Church’ in close ‘ecumenical’ contact and unanimity with all apostates from the true faith and Church…For a long time we have heard that they (our Orthodox clergy) belong to this movement in order ‘to witness to the peoples of other confessions the truth of holy Orthodoxy,’ but it is difficult for us to believe that this statement is anything more than ‘throwing powder in our eyes.’ Their frequent theological declarations in the international press can lead us to no other conclusion than that they are traitors to the holy Truth.”
Yours in the Faith,