Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection: News and Announcements
2nd Street Cathedral
59 East Second Street
(Between First & Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
212-677-4664 tvrfcndc@gmail.com

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March 22, 2010

The Freedom to Culturally Progress

Prayer, ritual, meditation, music and art play part to the evolving religious expressions that characterize cultural progress. Census data suggests that the diversity of faith will increase during the next decade as population growth in the United States is led by immigrants and their children. There should be debate on how we will allocate resources for these new Americans, not only to meet their practical needs, but also for the spiritual establishments that will fuse their cultures with our own. Because the influx of religious traditions are typically based on recognized and well-established sects, in most cases the customs will be welcomed and adopted alongside existing convention. But it is naive to suggest a seamless transition awaits us. How we cultivate this opportunityand express itwill measure our ultimate success as a society.

Preserving the religious rights of the American people would seem a forgone conclusion. It is not. There must be a new consensus that our society protects the expression of the faithful, which includes protecting their ability to expand and grow communities as those communities see fit.

My own church exemplifies the growing challenges many of our religious communities will struggle with in the years to come. More than most, the 2nd Street Cathedral in Manhattan is well accustomed to welcoming the huddled masses. Historically an immigrant church, the building was bought and commissioned after the primarily Russian Orthodox community lost their previous building to Soviet communists who seized institutional control. Today our church maintains vigilance against contemporary secular forces but continues to adapt and change with the contemporary needs of an increasingly diverse membership.

Ours is an Eastern Orthodoxy that emphasizes the aesthetic to sustain focus, an identity where physical faade can transcend us. The number of new roofs, windows, altars and iconsheaven only knows how many paint jobsreflects the evolving need to identify with our worshipers year after year. These results inspire the spiritually faithful while giving those of a secular lifestyle a taste of unique beauty. Here is living proof that religious expression is alive and evolvingindeed, thriving. Every change to our time-honored church enhances its ability to comfort, accommodate, inspire and take us closer to shared spiritual goals.

On Tuesday, March 23, 2010 the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission opened a 30-day window to debate whether to force our community of worshipers into an alliance designed to limit our religious expression at our church at 59 East 2nd Street in Manhattan. This forthcoming decision will dictate what images go in our windows and on our walls.

A cycle of federal lawsuits has been filed against Landmark Commissions in various cities to protect both the First and Fifth Amendment rights of targeted churches. With ours, the focus of the Commission is our building's facade (previous zoning laws already prevent redevelopment and expansion of the main structure). While certain actions made by the Landmarks Preservation Commission within our communities may be warranted, we believe their intrusion to control the face of our building is unacceptable.

Our building is not a static architectural decoration, but a living expression of the worship that takes place inside. Freezing this particular moment in time as the ultimate architectural expression of our community would inhibit our ability to evolve and improve that aesthetic over time. For instance, a neon lighted cross from the 1970s sits above the entrance, increasingly counter to our aesthetic sensibility, but will soon require legal petition to be replaced.

The great Greek Politician Pericles said it best: What you leave behind is not what is engraved in our monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. The spiritual power of our religious microcosms is beholden to strict laws that allow houses of worship to prosper without fear or reprise. Secular society should be respectful of our history, but sensitive to the needs of the faithful who arrive here to transform themselves and inspire the next generation. If our church is designated with Landmark Status, the message sent by our government will be clear: We will align your religious expression in accord to secular policy. Yes, progress includes preservation, but doing so at the expense of cultural expression is an impediment to progress.

Richard Aaron Wright is a member of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection at 59 East 2nd Street in Manhattan.

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