As we approach the solemn anniversary of 9/11, indelible images of that fateful day flash across our minds. We recall with searing clarity the exact time of our whereabouts as the two projectile planes thrust themselves mercilessly into the glass and steel sides of the twin towers. Lost in the toxic smoke, ashes and twisted metal of that day-turned-into-night was the humble immigrant church of St. Nicholas, once cloaked in the protective shadows of the two looming giants. Now after nearly two decades, that which was buried under the cascading rubble of the World Trade Center is poised to rise again in triumph, a monument to the resilience of the human spirit, powered by a faith in the risen Lord.

The original St. Nicholas in the shadow of the Twin Towers.
St. Nicholas at Ground Zero.

In another distant world, one deaf to the sound of the ticker tape and engines of economic power, the world-class city where 800 languages are spoken and 8 million people live in close quarters, we descend southward to the remote rural town of Mayaland, located in an area that was once the cradle of Mayan civilization. For its 6,000 or so inhabitants life was a daily struggle for survival, caught up as they were in a brutal civil war (1960-1996) between the Guatemalan military and guerrilla forces. Because of unspeakable acts of inhumanity against whole villages, the people of Mayaland fled across the border into Chiapas, Mexico for safety and economic security. Their exile lasted from 1982 to 1994. Once repatriated to their lands, they tried to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Amidst all this turmoil, many found themselves drifting away or being alienated from their mother church. Desiring a church with sacraments to nourish them, representatives from three communities initiated a search. After a year of dialogue with Fr. Evangelos Pata, they decided to join the Orthodox Church on January 22, 2011.

The spiritual direction taken by these humble and “rebellious” folk cost them dearly. The flames of persecution, fanned by their former co-religionists, gave rise to hateful accusations of not belonging to a real church, just another cult, of being false prophets and followers of the Antichrist. Confusion ensued and many left the movement, leaving only 12 families, with no place to meet.

In 2013, with the help of Father Andres Giron, the members were able to purchase a piece of land. The Mayaland community grew again, and a makeshift, shanty-like church, held together by wooden slats and covered by metal sheeting over a dirt floor, arose on the new site. This was only the beginning of their resurgence, because of one compelling Mayan attribute- fervent prayer. In the midst of their ground zero, and as survivors of genocidal warfare against their kind, they remained faithful to Christ, and He heard their plea.

Church members gather to share their hopes for a new church.
The newly purchased land is measured for future development.
The Mayaland faithful in prayer
The first church structure in Mayaland

In April of 2018, an anonymous donor asked to sponsor the building of a church in Guatemala, dedicated to the Theotokos. This donation seeded the start of a drive to build “La Santa Protección de la Teotocos.” Today, this beautiful Byzantine church, arising from the carnage and dislocation of a 36 year-old civil war, and nearing completion, cost less than one percent of the 85 million needed to build St. Nicholas at Ground Zero in Manhattan. In so many and varied ways the two worlds stand in stark contrast to each other, but the basic theme remains the same- out of the cruelty of great tragedy, a resilient faith in Christ can overcomes and heal a broken and wounded world. Though uniquely diverse through language, culture, ethnicity, the accident of history and circumstance in life, the Orthodox people of Manhattan and Mayaland can boast of the one thing they share in common- that “Christ is all and in all” (col. 3:11) through the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. May we remain faithful to its precepts and rise with Christ to the challenge of His invincible calling.

The Holy Protection under construction, built by the labors of their hands.
The dome construction is underway.


  1. Elizabeth Lillios says

    May God bless this Church… being built in honor of the Protection of His Mother…and its parishioners to His Glory.
    And, may it be the initial seed to cause others to grow throughout Guatemala!

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