More than three months have passed since the historic Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava went up in flames, leaving the Flatiron landmark in ruin and heartbroken parishioners praying for the future of their cultural and spiritual site.
During that time, church officials have been meeting with city agencies, and now rebuilding is inching closer to becoming a reality.
Most of the cathedral — known for its woodwork and stained glass, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 — was destroyed by the four-alarm fire the night of May 1, Orthodox Easter Sunday. It was determined to be accidental, caused by improperly extinguished candles.
At the gutted cathedral on West 25th Street, charred roof beams have been torn down, but a sickening stench of burnout still remains. The rubble is hidden from the street by construction boards with yellow signs that scream "Warning, Rodent Bait,” hardly befitting such a sacred space.
Despite the disheartening scene, there is good news: City government agencies have determined that the addition of metal beams and a few other tweaks to reinforce parts of the remains of the structure will keep the dream of reconstruction alive.
Lidija Nikolic, a church executive board member, is among those who have been meeting regularly with the Office of Emergency Management, Department of Buildings, Landmarks Preservation Commission, Mayor's Office and Community Board 5 about the next steps.
"The shoring of the 25th Street wall has been required as well as waterproofing,'' she said. "Shoring and bracing was broadened to the entire building as opposed to previous specification to only do the east and west walls. This should be completed by the first week of September.''
Nikolic anticipates that adding those beams will enable renovation work to begin inside the parish hall.
She said the rebuild will be financed through insurance, donations and fundraising. A benefit reception was held Monday at the New York Athletic Club and drew Serbian tennis stars in town for the upcoming U.S. Open.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission will ultimately set the parameters for and approve a new design, a process that could take between six months and a year.
In the meantime, Sunday services are being held at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at the General Theological Seminary, an Episcopal church on West 21st Street.
After services a few weeks ago, the Rev. Djokan Majstorovic led parishioners to the St. Sava site for a prayer, Nikolic said, “for us to remain strong and united in our efforts to renew our beloved St. Sava to its glory.''
One of the few things that survived the fire was a painting of St. Sava that had been in the church office. The icon appeared to be untouched. Everything else in the room had been burned or drenched by water fighting the blaze, Nikolic said. The congregants have been praying under it since then.
"The parishioners are heartbroken but optimistic," Nikolic said. "It is tragic what happened this year. But even if we lost our beloved cathedral building, we have our living church — our congregation, our Serbian community in New York. We have each other."