Church Grows Up From Barn Along I-5 -- Building Is Love's Labor For Orthodox Priest

ROGUE RIVER, Ore. - Truckers hauling logs along Interstate 5 often honk. Local passers-by smile and wave.

Just north of the freeway about a mile east of the city of Rogue River, an old barn has been converted into a traditional-looking Russian Orthodox Church, complete with cupolas - onion domes - and three-bar crosses.

"When I'm out working on the garden or on the cupola, at least four or five people always stop by," says the Rev. Seraphim Cardoza. "A lot of them are tourists heading south. They all want to stop and see the building."

With his flowing white beard, white hair and black robe and cap, Cardoza certainly stands out among southern Oregonians. The priest represents one of the most ancient branches of the Christian faith.

And his sky-blue chapel with the golden cupolas is decidedly unorthodox here. Cardoza says it is the only one of its kind in the state.

Although work continues on the remodeled barn, he and fellow Orthodox believers began holding services in it five months ago.

"Most of the people stopping in are not Orthodox," he says as his large hands continually work a prayer rope. "But they all feel a deep sense of peace and beauty when they see it."

He prefers not to call the building a church. Rather, he sees it simply as a private chapel where followers of the Orthodox faith worship.

"When you think of a church, you think of people out evangelizing," he says. "They are in the phone book. They are

advertising. They have a sign out. We do none of that."

Cardoza follows a simple life. He doesn't cut his hair or beard. He has no salary. "Every now and then someone will help with a donation," he says. "All of this was donated."

Until a Russian woman donated the barn, Cardoza and his congregation gathered as members of the St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Church in Medford.

"We felt it was time to have a different building, something a little more Orthodox," he explains.

The priest even visited Greece last year to make sure the new chapel reflected that country's old Orthodox churches.

Inside are colorful paintings of saints, wooden icon stands and candles of beeswax filled with pure olive oil.

Local residents pitched in, he says. One built the large dome. Another donated gravel for the driveway. A local lumber company offered lumber, and a landscaper provided expertise, all at reduced cost. A store gave the church roses for the flower garden.

"This building has to look like heaven on Earth," Cardoza says. "Most churches built nowadays look like a gymnasium, like a community center. Then they put up a few crosses."

The priest is a former Protestant minister raised as a Catholic. He turned to orthodoxy some two decades ago because he felt it offered undiluted religion. He is married with children, a condition he says was normal for priests in ancient times.

Volunteers are currently building a shrine to St. John the Barefoot, named because he gave his shoes to the needy.

The next step in converting the old barn into a chapel is having frescoes of religious scenes telling the story of the Bible painted on the interior walls, he says.

"My next prayer is for an iconographer," he says. "I don't want someone coming along who wants to paint. To do it properly, you have to be blessed and trained for such a thing.

"I believe that person will come," he adds.

After all, the little Orthodox chapel isn't far from the beaten path of Interstate 5.