ROGUE RIVER — A sparkling new Russian Orthodox Church, with its telltale cupolas and three-bar crosses, should be rising out of the ground here.

ROGUE RIVER — A sparkling new Russian Orthodox Church, with its telltale cupolas and three-bar crosses, should be rising out of the ground here.

Instead, there is only a hole in the earth for the basement where the small St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Church was dismantled last year to make room for a traditional structure intended to be twice as large as the original. Standing nearby is a white tent-like structure for prayer services.

"We thought we had the financing from two or three major donors," observed Father Seraphim Cardoza. "But the economy ... "

He left the sentence unfinished. When the economy went south, so did the principal contributors to the project, which he estimates will cost from $250,000 to $400,000, he said.

"I was in the pits for a while," he said. "I kept thinking, 'Oh my Goodness! We came this far and it comes to a screeching halt.' But I know God is in charge. I know in my heart this church will be built."

Readily recognized by his traditional black cossack and cap, he is periodically stopped by strangers on the street who ask when the building will be completed.

"I point up and say, 'God's in charge,' " he said. "If I didn't believe that, then I would throw in the towel. I have to believe that."

The Orthodox Christian religion, which has some 350 million followers worldwide, held its Easter service yesterday. The six days leading up to Sunday is considered holy week.

"We are on the Julian calendar, the same calendar Christ used," he explained of the calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. "It is the same calendar everybody used until somebody changed it because of monetary reasons."

The Gregorian calendar, which recognized Easter on April 12, was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. What sets it apart from the Julian calendar with its 365 days is a leap day every fourth year.

St. Innocent began in 1982 when a small orthodox parish began meeting in a house in Medford. When property was purchased about a mile east of the city of Rogue River, a small barn was converted into the church in the late 1990s. A former Marine, Cardoza, 73, has served as the church's priest since 1995. Although all services are in English, the focus remains on traditional orthodox life and worship, he said.

The roughly 40-member congregation has been meeting at the group's church on Cardoza's property in Wimer.

The tent structure near where the St. Innocent Church stood will be used for prayer service beginning in May, although parishioners will also gather at the Wimer site until the new church is built.

"We put the tent up to show people we're still here," he said. "We will come here and gather and offer prayers."

In addition to the tent, the church property contains a large orthodox cross, a blue and white St. John's shrine with an icon of the saint inside and an onion dome from the dismantled church.

"We tore the old church down to make room for the new one," Cardoza said as he walked about the property.

"We have the basement dug and we have the new septic put in," he continued. "We have all the permits. The county Planning Department was very good to work with. They were helpful all the way through the process."

But the economy was not, he will tell you.

Unlike the robin's egg blue of the dismantled church, the new church will be painted with an earth tone as required by the county, he said.

Yet it will resemble orthodox churches he has visited in Russia and Greece, he said. That includes the traditional cupolas, which signify a candle burning with passion for Christ, and three-bar crosses. Inside will be colorful paintings of saints, wooden icon stands, candles of pure beeswax filled with pure olive oil and frescoes of religious scenes telling the story of the Bible painted on the interior walls.

"This is not just for orthodox," he said. "We want to build something beautiful for everybody who drives by here."

Cardoza, noting he has helped build three orthodox churches, said the little congregation had nothing when it first formed in 1982.

"I have helped build three churches and they have all been built on faith," he said. "This will absolutely be built. God is going to do it."

For information on the church or how to donate, check out its Web site at stinnocentorthodoxchurch.com. Anyone wanting to help financially or with labor or materials can contact Cardoza at FrS@q.com or at 582-2128.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.