Fears of Intentional Attack Surround Manhattan Cathedral Fire

Fears of Intentional Attack Surround Manhattan Cathedral Fire
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

According to an article in the New York Postsome members of the Christian Orthodox community believe the massive fire that destroyed a historic cathedral in Manhattan was set deliberately, as part of an organized attack that destroyed three other churches around the world on Orthodox Easter Sunday.

The other church fires occurred in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and in northern Russia. In each case, the churches were “engulfed in flames just hours after Easter services,” as the NYP reports.

“Too many churches have burned to call it an accident,” former Serbian ambassador Dusan T. Batakovic told the New York Post. “It is very strange that it happened, that the fires all took place on Easter, the greatest Christian Orthodox holiday. Some kind of terrorist action cannot be excluded.”

According to this theory, the church fires were retaliation for the Serbian Orthodox patriarchate’s role in postponing the canonization of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac of Croatia, who was accused of being a Nazi sympathizer — complicit in “the large-scale massacres and genocide against the Serbs, Jews, and Roma,” as Batakovic put it.

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej warned that canonizing Stepinac would “return the relations between Serbs and Croats, as well as between Catholics and Orthodox faithful, back to their tragic history.” Unfortunately, postponing his canonization has also set relations between Serbs and Croats back, producing a great deal of anger in Croatia.

Fears that the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava in Manhattan was destroyed by arson are reportedly widespread in the Serbian community, fueled in part by memories of how the church was threatened during the bitter Serbian-Croatian war in Yugoslavia in the nineties.

Another possible explanation for the fire was hinted at by the New York Post’s account of the church’s financial troubles, stemming from a $100 million deal for a commercial lease on an adjacent lot that fell apart two years ago, leading to a $500,000 lawsuit and possibly erasing the church’s last chance to rescue its property.

NY1 News reports that investigators are still trying to determine the origins of the St. Sava fire, which took three hours to bring under control, fortunately without any casualties.

The building is said to be in no immediate danger of collapse, but there are concerns about loose debris falling from the damaged structure, which is over 160 years old and has long been registered as a national historic site.

“The hope is that it is salvageable in some way. This is a historic, gorgeous, landmark building and the Department of Buildings was going in this morning to make an assessment on the structure and the stability of the structure. There’s been no collapse yet, which is good news, but the next few days are going to tell us what the real state of the church is moving forward,” said City Councilman Corey Johnson.

The Wall Street Journal notes that a fire department spokesman said there is “nothing so far to indicate that it is suspicious.” The NYPD’s arson and explosion squad is continuing to assist the fire marshals in their investigation.