The Rev. Father John Romas, the iconic Greek Orthodox priest who helped lead the effort to rebuild the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at the World Trade Center, passed away Jan. 24 at White Plains Hospital. Father Romas had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Father Romas followed his calling later in life becoming ordained and presbyter in Greece in 1984. Following his return to the United States in 1987, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos assigned him as the Proistamenos, or priest, of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in downtown Manhattan. Father Romas continued at St. Nicholas Church until the September 2001 terrorist attacks, which destroyed the church. A priest for almost 32 years, Father Romas served with zeal and dedication, and indeed was the heart and soul of the St. Nicholas Church, especially after its destruction. He labored tirelessly for the rebuilding of the church and anxiously awaited the completion of his beloved St. Nicholas, taking much pride in its designation as a National Shrine of our Archdiocese.
Father Romas led the Blessing of the Waters Ceremony held annually at Pier 1 in Battery Park on the first Sunday of January after the Epiphany.
During the ceremony, swimmers dive attempt to retrieve a gold cross that is thrown into the water with a tether. The ceremony is symbolic of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River by St. John. The swimmer who retrieves the cross hoists it in the air and swims back to a city Fire Department boat. For his efforts, he is rewarded with a small cross, personal blessing from the priest to ensure good luck for the coming year. The ceremony is concluded with the release of a white dove which symbolizes the Holy Spirit which appeared that day in the sky.
Father Romas was born on April 10, 1929, to Demetrios and Vasiliki Rambaounis in Dorvitsa, Nafpactias, Greece. Upon completion of his high school education, he went on to complete a four-year program at the Hephaestus School of Mechanics, in Athens. He came to United States in 1952, and later that year married Lorraine (Ourania) Papachristou in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
“He was a real people person. He’ll be missed,” Papachristou said of her husband, to whom she was married for 64 years.
Funeral services were held at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Sts. Constantine and Helen, Brooklyn, NY, where he assisted following the 9/11 attacks.
The family asked that donations be made in memory of Father Romas to the St. Nicholas Rebuilding Fund or for the St. Nicholas kouvouklion used for the Good Friday Epitaphios.