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Once-hidden artwork on display

Every day, thousands of Interstate 5 drivers pass by a Russian orthodox church with distinctive onion-shaped domes near the town of Rogue River.

The St. Innocent Orthodox Church is still under construction. But people can get a sneak peek at paintings normally hidden inside the church that will someday adorn its walls.

Congregation members moved the large paintings by Daniel Ogan to the Untitled 2.0 art gallery, located at the corner of Sixth and G Streets in downtown Grants Pass between Vortex Clothiers and the Loam + Black home decor shop.

The gallery will be open for a reception from 5 to 9 p.m. for the First Friday Art Walk. Art fans can meet the artist and members of the church, see Ogan’s work and view other iconography-style paintings collected from around the world by congregation members.

The exhibit runs through the month of May. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

In the early days of Christianity, few people could read. Biblical stories were communicated through art.

Christians living in Rome often buried their dead in underground catacombs decorated with spiritual paintings.

As Christianity spread, churches used paintings, sculpture, stained glass and other art forms to portray significant figures and stories.

“And so all these images, all these windows to heaven, were gospel messages,” said Father Seraphim Cardoza, leader of St. Innocent Orthodox Church. “It was a way to preach the gospel. And it’s still a way to preach the gospel.”

Ogan’s paintings depict Jesus Christ, his mother Mary, the angel Gabriel, John the Baptist, Daniel in the lions’ den and other well known figures.

He has also included lesser-known people, such as St. Seraphim of Sarov — Cardoza’s namesake.

Born in Russia in 1754, St. Seraphim of Sarov was a monk, priest and later a hermit known for greeting visitors with kindness and joy.

While chopping wood, he was attacked by a gang of thieves and savagely beaten with his own ax handle. Yet he pleaded for mercy for the thieves in court, according to stories about his life.

Ogan’s painting of St. Seraphim shows him painfully kneeling on a rock in commemoration of the 1,000 successive nights he reportedly spent in prayer on a rock with his arms upraised.

Cardoza said the paintings are not only a reminder of sacred stories, but they are a way to honor the heroes and martyrs of Christianity. A former Marine with a kind, gentle demeanor, he said displaying the paintings is like saluting veterans.

As for the timeline to complete the church’s construction, Cardoza said that is in God’s hands.

“I’m not in charge. I know who’s in charge,” he said.

The congregation is relying on donations and using a pay-as-you-go model to build the church.

A smaller church was once on the site on North River Road outside Rogue River. The congregation outgrew that building — a converted barn — and started construction on the larger church in 2015.

The installation of electrical and heating and air conditioning systems recently wrapped up. The congregation hopes to raise $51,000 to install drywall inside the interior of the cavernous church, Cardoza said.

Tax deductible donations can be sent to St. Innocent Orthodox Church, P.O. Box 1141, Rogue River, OR 97525. Donations can also be made online at www.stinnocentorthodoxchurch.org.

The project will be essentially finished once the inside of the building is painted, Cardoza said.

Then icon paintings can adorn its interior walls and domed ceiling, surrounding everyone inside.

Cardoza said he gets questions every day from strangers who drive by and see the church. They want to know what it is and when it will be finished.

“We’re doing something beautiful for God and for everyone in this valley and everyone who drives by,” he said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Father Seraphim Cardoza talks about the paintings that will be placed inside the Russian Orthodox Church in Rogue River. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune