On September 11, I will remember the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks as I have every year since that awful day: I will be in church, meditating on a piece of steel from the fallen World Trade Center, and praying for the families of all those who were lost that day and in the ensuing war.
By early afternoon on Sept. 11, 2001, I had been glued to my TV for hours watching the news coverage in disbelief. I was overwhelmed with fear and helplessness. Our small Eastern Orthodox Church decided to open the doors to welcome anyone seeking solace on their commute home from work. We put a poster-board sign out front that simply said “Come in and pray.”
St. Luke’s Church was in the process of building a new bell tower when the attacks happened. In the following weeks, we were inspired to dedicate the tower to the memory of the 9/11 victims. We felt especially moved because a tiny Greek Orthodox Church had been destroyed when one of the buildings fell on it. It was completely obliterated, and many of its sacred objects, including relics of the church’s patron Saint Nicholas, were never recovered. We felt that the Ground Zero site and all that rubble were sacred because the remnants of the saint, and all the people who had been killed, were scattered among that steel and concrete. We wrote to the mayor of New York to ask for a piece of the twin towers to incorporate into the new bell tower. We were surprised when the request was granted. (Across the nation, more than 250 pieces of steel from the World Trade Center have been allowed to be incorporated into various memorials, with the stipulation that they are never to be used for profit.)
Father Andrew drove from Chicago to New York that July and picked up the 2-foot, 200-pound section of I-beam from the twin towers. A former military chaplain, he drove it back to the church wrapped in an American flag, treating it with the same respect given to a fallen soldier. On the one-year anniversary of the attacks, the beam was brought in solemn ceremony to the church on a fire truck with local firefighters and police present, memorializing their fallen brothers in New York. It was mounted on a pedestal, and a rectangular box was made to fit inside the beam and filled with sand, to hold lighted taper candles. The beam now sits in the entrance to the church, beneath an embossed copper icon of Saint Nicholas with images of the twin towers and the destroyed church incorporated in the icon. Anyone can visit the beam and light a candle.
Every Sept. 11, we have held a memorial program and invited survivors of the attacks to discuss their experiences. The beam is brought into the middle of the church and people light candles and can view the beam and rubble from the Pentagon and the plane crash sight in Pennsylvania. Members of the Civil Air Patrol read the names of fallen soldiers from Illinois.
It is a heart-wrenching experience to memorialize the attacks every year; to see photos and video from that day again. But I think it is important to never forget. As I look around the church and see so many people in uniforms of various kinds – from firemen to military service membes to Boy Scouts – I am freshly reminded of how much has been sacrificed, and is still being sacrificed, every day for our freedom. Every September 11 for the rest of my life, wherever I am, I will be lighting a candle and thanking God for American heroes.
The “Remembering 9/11” site includes obituaries, profiles, Guest Books, Moving Tributes and a National Book of Remembrance. To date, more than 6 million people have visited the site, leaving more than 200,000 Guest Book entries.