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Built on faith

As he takes in the view of the concrete foundation and walls of the new St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Church, the Rev. Seraphim Cardoza remarks that the site (and sight) is a testimony of the faith and hard work of his tiny congregation. First and foremost, it’s an expression of faith, he said.

The new church, located on a 2.5-acre plot just south of the city of Rogue River, will overlook Interstate 5. Cardoza hopes it will be seen as “a place of worship where heaven and earth meet.”

In 2008, the original St. Innocent church — really a chapel — was dismantled to make way for a traditional Byzantine shrine adorned with the cupolas, bell towers, gold three-bar crosses, stars and religious icons associated with a faith that dates back 2,000 years.

Archbishop Dmitrieff Kyrill of San Francisco, the ruling bishop of Western America, consecrated the site, and emotions were high at the groundbreaking of what is believed to be the first traditional Russian Orthodox Church built on the West Coast in more than 70 years. The cornerstone was laid, and the table set for “a very beautiful, very traditional” church, Cardoza said.

When funding evaporated in the wake of the recession, the building project came to a screeching halt. The parish prayed and kept “loving and trusting God that he would someday build this church,” he said.

“We believe, 'unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain,' ” he added, quoting Psalm 127.

There were no organized fundraisers or pleas for financial support of the project originally estimated between $250,000 and $400,000. Over the years, donations came in bit by bit – “some here, some there,” Cardoza said, as “hearts were touched.”

“We are not a wealthy church,” he said. “We’re common people with a common spirit of humility.”

In the meantime, 40 to 50 parishioners regularly traveled 11 twisting, turning miles from Interstate 5 to worship at St. Catherine’s Russian Orthodox Church — a converted barn on Cardoza’s Wimer property — winter, spring, summer and fall.

The seven-year wait was “an act of faith … a test of faith,” he said.

This past year, the church received several sizable donations, and finally, “we had enough to get started,” said Cardoza.

Volunteer crews of parishioners and non-parishioners have worked steadily since late summer. The church’s temple foundation of 80 feet by 35 feet has been poured, and the 10-foot walls of the church’s basement fellowship hall have been erected.

The church will be nearly three times the size of the first, and it promises to be nearly as impressive as the churches Cardoza visited on pilgrimages to Russia. Inside, colorful paintings of saints will grace the walls, candles of pure beeswax filled with pure olive oil will burn, and frescoes of religious scenes will illustrate scripture.

The tallest point of the church — a gold-plated dome and cross — will reach approximately 34 feet. Bells, “akin to trumpets in the Old Testament,” Cardoza said, will call the faithful to worship.

The bells are coming from a foundry in Siberia — the same foundry that has produced bells for more than 500 years.

“They have the most unbelievable sound,” Cardoza said.

A carpenter and a metal worker, both wishing to remain anonymous, have volunteered to craft the distinctive onion-shaped cupolas and the gold-plated three-bar crosses.

“They are fine Christians, not Orthodox, not parishioners,” Cardoza said. But the work is “a labor of love.”

The shape of the traditional cupola signifies a candle burning with passion for Christ, and the cross, Christ’s sacrifice.

One of only a handful of small Russian Orthodox churches located between the Willamette Valley and San Francisco, St. Innocent was the first in the Rogue Valley. Another small church with similar architecture is being built in Ashland.

Although Cardoza doesn’t like to put a price tag on the completed project in Rogue River, he did tell Perry Atkinson during a recent KDOV-TV interview “that it won’t be the $250,000 we first thought. In reality, it may be closer to $1 million.”

Cardoza is not discouraged.

“I have built churches before in this same way … on faith,” he said. “This will absolutely be built. I know it in my heart.”

Cardoza, who turns 80 on his next birthday, said his children have urged him to retire.

“I needed to be here for this … to get this started,” he said. “I still plan to be around to see it finished even if it takes another seven years.”

“But, I am not in charge. God’s in charge,” he said.

For more information about St. Innocent or the Russian Orthodox religion, see www.stinnocentorthodoxchurch.org. To help financially or volunteer labor or materials, call Cardoza at 541-582-2128.

Reach freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

The Rev. Seraphim Cardoza believes that with the foundation laid and 10-foot walls erected, the table has been set for a 'very beautiful, very traditional' Russian Orthodox Church in Rogue River. Photo by Tammy Asnicar
An artist's rendering illustrates the distinctive architecture of the new church: a traditional Byzantine shrine adorned with cupolas, bell towers, gold three-bar crosses, stars and religious icons. Drawing courtesy the Rev. Seraphim Cardoza