ROGUE RIVER — Parishoners of St. Innocent Orthodox Church have launched a GoFundMe campaign in order to finish a major building project before winter. The church is approximately $250,000 short of making a 20-year dream a reality.
Before and since a groundbreaking in 2015, financial contributions, donated materials and volunteer labor have supported the tiny congregation’s efforts to build a nearly 2,200-square-foot ornate Russian Orthodox shrine on North River Road, just south of the city.
“Little by little, (donations) have come from here and there as hearts were touched,” says the Rev. Father Seraphim Cardoza, archpriest of about 40 congregants.
He adds that non-Orthodox and even non-Christians encouraged his parish to step out in faith to build the first traditional Russian Orthodox Church on the West Coast in more than 70 years.
The sight of the onion-shaped, blue cupolas adorned with gold stars and gold three-bar crosses, a huge dome and a bell tower that rises above the massive stucco structure continues to inspire generosity that is “beyond a minor miracle,” he says.
Now after two years of mostly volunteer labor, the project is at a standstill until additional money is raised to pay for electricians, plumbers, roofers, carpenters and the materials needed to finish construction before winter weather hits.
In the meantime, “we continue to pray and trust God,” says Cardoza. “We are not a wealthy church. We’re common people with a common spirit of humility.”
Cardoza has waited 20 years to build the church on the 2.5-acre wooded plot.
In 2008, the original St. Innocent chapel — a converted barn — was dismantled to make way for a new church, one that Cardoza envisioned as a replica of the beautiful cathedrals he visited during his pilgrimages through Russia.
Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco, the ruling bishop of the church in Western America, consecrated the site and the cornerstone was laid.
During the long recession, plans were put on the back burner, and there were no organized fundraisers or pleas for financial support of the project originally estimated to cost nearly $400,000.
The seven-year wait to break ground was a test of faith, Cardoza says.
The building project is “a dream come true and the answer to years of prayers,” says Polina Leiser, who has been a member of the parish since 2000.
She recalls first attending the church when services were held in the “barn.”
“It was perfect,” she says. “God was there. But Father always talked about his vision to one day build a beautiful church right off the freeway. With only 30 members, we had no idea how it was going to work, but we always knew that God put that desire in our hearts, and that he would make it happen.”
Leiser admits “it has definitely been a spiritual journey and a spiritual battle” fraught with many setbacks, disappointments and now exhausted resources.
“But when I see how far we’ve come, I know it was well worth it. This whole journey has been a tremendous blessing that really brought our parish close together.”
The project has also brought out church members’ creativity.
Robert Pierle, who joined the parish in 2004, crafted the solid oak arched doors that greet all who enter the sanctuary.
Just short of eight feet tall and seven feet wide, the doors are adorned with exotic hardwood inlays. Also, carved in both Russian and English, is a Bible verse: "I am the door; by me if any man enters in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."
Pierle says the four months “plus or minus” he spent on the project was “both exciting and challenging.”
“On a spiritual level, it has provided a deep peace in my soul,” he says. “Knowing I can provide a place for others to worship and experience the orthodox faith has driven me on.”
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 saints and religious scenes that will grace the walls.
Cardoza calls the icons and frescoes “visual Scripture” that harkens back to when few could read or write.
“It was a way to present the Gospel.”
At nearly 2,200 square feet, the church will be almost four times the size of the original St. Innocent chapel. The tallest point of the church — a gold-plated dome and cross — will reach approximately 34 feet.
Hanging in the bell tower are five bells, each of varying size and each with its own distinct tone to call the faithful to prayer and worship.
The bells were forged in a foundry in Siberia — the same foundry that has produced bells for more than 500 years.
In a few weeks, a colossal gold cupola built by Bob Kirkwood will be put into place. Resembling a flame, the cupola represents “our burning love for Christ,” Cardoza says.
“We want this church to be a long-standing testament of our faith,” he adds. “We are asking for help in our efforts to build something beautiful for God and for all in the Rogue Valley.”
— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at email@example.com.