By Tammy Asnicar
The Rev. Seraphim Cardoza admits that it is nothing short of “a minor miracle” that his tiny parish is erecting an ornate Russian Orthodox shrine in Rogue River, OR.
A replica of the beautiful cathedrals he visited during his pilgrimages through Russia, the new church will be a bit of “heaven on earth,” he says.
Cardoza says it is only through the prayer and sacrifice of 40 congregants that St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Church is finally being built. He adds that the kindness of strangers and community support “beyond outstanding” have made it possible for the parish to step out in faith to build what is believed to be the first traditional Russian Orthodox Church, complete with onion dome, built on the West Coast in more than 70 years.
“We are not a wealthy church,” he says. “We’re common people with a common spirit of humility.”
Darren Jahn, a parishioner and overseer of the construction project at 4922 North River Road, says,
“(The generosity) never ceases to surprise me. Non-Orthodox and even non-Christians are making this happen. It is very humbling.”
The onion-shaped blue cupola adorned with gold stars and gold three-bar crosses atop the bell tower that rises above the massive stucco structure and a large dome and framework for additional cupolas have been turning heads of passersby on Interstate 5 since construction on the main sanctuary began in earnest this past summer.
Cardoza hopes for hearts to be turned as well.
“No matter where I go, there are always people asking me about our church,”
Cardoza says. And, some will write checks on the spot to support the building project, he adds.
“Thousands of people drive by our church every day, and when I’m gone, that church will still be there speaking to people,” he says. “Driving by you’ll know it’s a house of God.”
An open house is planned this weekend to thank volunteers who have donated labor and materials and give a sneak preview to the community supporters and the curious.
Visitors may tour the construction site and new sanctuary, meet the clergy and learn more about the Russian Orthodox Church from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Russian food will be served and the St. Innocent choir will perform both days.
Cardoza has waited 20 years to build a new church on the 2.5-acre wooded plot just south of Rogue River.
In 2008, the original St. Innocent chapel — a converted barn — was dismantled to make way for the temple. Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco, the ruling bishop of the Western America Diocese, consecrated the site and the cornerstone was laid.
During the recession, the building project came to a screeching halt.
There were no organized fundraisers or pleas for financial support of the project originally estimated between $250,000 and $400,000. Over the years, financial contributions, donated materials and volunteer labor came in “as hearts were touched.”
In the meantime, 30 to 35 parishioners regularly traveled 11 miles to worship at St. Catherine’s Russian Orthodox Church, a converted barn on Cardoza’s Wimer property.
The seven-year wait was a test of faith.
“Our church is literally built on faith,” says Polina Leiser, a parishioner who with her husband, Patrick, has served on the building committee. “We started when we had no money.
“Behind this beautiful building are many years of intense prayers and hard work, tears and disappointments. Building a church without funds is stressful, and I know it’s been very hard on Father (Cardoza) … but he keeps going anyway. He just prays, puts God first, and encourages us to keep moving forward.”
In 2015, the church received several sizable donations to break ground and begin construction.
The church’s temple foundation of 80 feet by 35 feet was poured, and the 10-foot walls of the church’s basement fellowship hall erected in late 2015.
At nearly 2,200 square feet, the church will be almost four times the size of the original St. Innocent church. The tallest point of the church — a gold-plated dome and cross — will reach approximately 34 feet.
The project is not expected to be completed until the summer of 2017 at the earliest.
“We just keep chipping away at it,” says Jahn, who adds that major funding, approximately $85,000, is still needed for the last 21 feet of the sanctuary where the altar will stand and to complete additional exterior work.
“But, God is faithful, and I am so excited to see our new church rise and look so beautiful,” says Leiser.
Both Cardoza and Jahn say that the church is being built with thousands of years of tradition in mind.
Jahn, who owns Main Building Supply in downtown Rogue River, said that many customers comment on
“how rare it is these days to watch something being built so beautifully.”
Hanging in the bell tower are five bells, each of varying size and each with its own distinct tone to call parishioners to prayer and worship.
Cardoza calls the bells ringing “a sermon in sound.”
The bells were forged in a foundry in Siberia — the same foundry that has produced bells for more than 500 years. And, fortunately, says Jahn, the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Russian ruble made the bells much more affordable than originally thought.
Another church member, Daniel Ogan, an iconographer and historian trained in Russia, is overseeing the placement of icons in the sanctuary and the colorful frescoes of the saints and religious scenes that will grace the walls.
Cardoza calls the icons and frescoes “visual scripture” that harks back to when few could read or write.
“It was a way to present the Gospel.”
And, throughout the sanctuary, candles of pure beeswax filled with pure olive oil will burn.
Jahn, a musician and choir member, is looking forward to the chants and four-part harmonies enriched by the high ceilings and tile floors.
“The acoustics will be stunning,” he says. “It will be a slice of heaven.”
Leiser, who says she’s “in awe” every time she drives by the building site, recalls driving by St. Innocent’s little chapel in February 2000.
“My life was changed. … Imagine thousands of people driving by and seeing (the new church) off the freeway,” Leiser says. “Most of them will never become Orthodox; some probably won’t even know it’s an Orthodox church. But I pray that for a few seconds driving by, most people will feel God’s presence and love, and maybe for some, those few seconds driving by will be just as life-changing as they were to me almost 17 years ago.”
For more information about St. Innocent or the Russian Orthodox religion, go to: www.stinnocentorthodoxchurch.org. To help financially or volunteer labor or materials, contact Cardoza at 541-582-2128.