Miracles still happen, says St. Innocent priest – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News


Father Joshua Cardoza inside the brand new St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Rogue River. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Rogue River lived the axiom of Corinthians 5:7: “We walk by faith and not by sight,” for more than 15 years.

“This is our place of healing. It’s so wonderful to have our own church now, our own temple, our own sanctified space where our community can come,” said Father Joshua Cardoza, standing inside the church’s new building.

For anyone driving along Interstate 5 from Medford to Grants Pass, the church is hard to miss — the white walls lined with yellow and blue. Three cupolas crown the building. Cardoza is almost tempted to characterize them as the beacons bringing strangers to the church. He emphasized their beauty at night — the church has positioned lights to outline their shapes against the dark sky.

The small Russian Orthodox church was started many years ago by Father Seraphim Cardoza — Joshua Cardoza’s father. Beginning in a barn that was eventually condemned, the church moved to a small building the elder Cardoza built on his own property. For the past two months, services were at Rogue River Community Center.

The church of St. Innocent broke ground on their new church in 2015. The certificate of occupancy — allowing the church to open its doors and hold services — was signed Dec. 16, 2022.

“One of my contractors went down there when the planning department finally signed it off, and they were so happy to do it. They said, ‘Look, I think you guys hold the record for the longest active permit.’ They were really joyous to say, ‘You did it,’” Cardoza said.

Shandell Clark, planning manager for Jackson County, said the project predates her employment with the county, but she’s been there only three years.

“I can tell you they first came to the planning department just for information in 2006,” she said.

The project received approval from the planning department in 2007. The building department approved the construction plans the following year. With the certificate of occupancy, Cardoza was able to officiate the first service in the building Dec. 18, 2022.

The original vision was to build a church without going into debt, ensuring the finished building would belong to the body of Christ, not the bank. But this required walking by faith, waiting for the generosity of the community and of strangers, Cardoza explained.

“Miracles still happen because we have 30 people in this church, maybe 35, and 10 of ’em are kids and none of ’em are rich. They’re making ends meet, and we’re grateful for that,” he said.

The church was built one project at a time as money became available. Members of the church lent a hand as they could, but much of the work required the expensive skill of contractors. Often, he said, donations came from people driving by.

“I’m telling you this church will talk to you. It’s Christ God; it’s the Holy Spirit — he’ll talk to you through this building,” he said.

Some of the donations came through their website, but often they came from impressed strangers.

People often drive past the church then turn around and come back. They walk around and take pictures. If Cardoza is there, he goes out to answer their questions. Sometimes, they’re moved to tears. He believes people are drawn to the mystique of the building, and some are seeking God maybe without knowing it themselves.

“People would see it online, but a lot of times, they were just simply driving I-5, they just see the building and take the next exit. They say, ‘What is this?’ I’ll explain a little about orthodoxy, and a lot of times they’ll say, ‘Do you take donations?’”

One woman drove past the church on a visit to Oregon from California. After she passed, she turned around and came back.

“I showed her around, and she asked me, ‘Father, what do you need to get done?’ and I told her really one of the last pressing things, the floor is really the last big thing we need, and she wrote me a check for most of it,” he said. “That’s how we are here today — through the kindness of people.”

He told everyone if they donated a dollar or $1,000, every penny would go to building the church, and every penny would count. But, he laughed, the church needs so much more money.

They hope to finish the basement and pave the driveway. Then there’s the completion of the interior. Every facet of the walls needs to be painted in gilded patterns, but that will come, Cardoza said.

When he arrived two years ago, there was no heating, no air, no sheet rock on the walls, only the skeleton of the building.

“This could have collapsed at any time,” he said.

When the priest who first stepped out in faith — Saraphim Cardoza — retired, it could have happened that the next priest to take over might not have had the stomach for waiting in faith for the project to crawl along on the generosity of strangers.

But right as Seraphim Cardoza retired, Joshua had just finished the lengthy process of becoming an Orthodox priest. Cardoza was ordained in summer 2020.

“I never had any education other than a high school education. When I felt the call after many years of being in the Orthodox church, I had to get my bachelor’s degree, and then I had to get my master’s of divinity. I did that at 50 years old. My wife had to show me how to turn on a computer. I worked in construction. I was a heavy equipment operator,” he said.

“So many priests kept saying, ‘You’re supposed to be a priest.’ I went to a different church, same thing. Somebody came from the seminary, and he (the priest) said, ‘This is Joshua; he’s supposed to be a priest.’ I had never talked to him. My heart leapt, just on fire,” he said.

As he drove home that day, he made the decision to do it, he said. When he told his wife, she told him he had to go. Then his family moved through his journey to priesthood much the same as his father had crept toward building a church.

“We got rid of everything and moved to Boston — it was a Greek seminary. I had to learn liturgical Greek, little bit of modern Greek. Nothing’s easy. I hadn’t learned how to write, like good, I had to use tutors. But in my undergraduate I was one of three people with honors, and my masters I graduated with high distinction,” he said.

“Miracle after miracle. There were many times we didn’t have the funds to stay. A check would come in the mail from somebody I didn’t know with exactly the right amount, and it was oh, my gosh, I can stay another semester,” he said.

His experience in divinity school prepared him to keep the faith as the construction of the church relied on surprises of generosity.

Cardoza was proud to walk around the interior of the church and point out its finally realized beauty.

On the white walls hang iconography — paintings of saints and figures from the Bible. A parishioner of St. Innocent, Daniel Ogan, made them all. He traveled to Russia years ago to learn the 15th century style of writing iconography, Cardoza explained.

The faces and figures of the glimmering, lilting, almost melancholic style are not painted, he explained. The proper verb for iconography is to write. These images served as words when they were first made. Many of the first converts to Christianity could not read or access expensive and rare books. Christianity is much older than the printing press, he said.

But — Father Joshua said stepping toward the icon of the prophet Elijah riding a chariot of fire into heaven — they could read this.

“Does that give you the goosebumps or what?” he said.

Ogan has been writing iconography for the unbuilt church for years, faithfully finishing and storing each one, waiting for the day they would be hung.

Cardoza stands tall in a black cassock and a round black hat with black embroidery. His eyes are filled with a tender passion. His beard is reminiscent of Tolstoy. He pointed to his appearance as a tangible symbol of the constancy of Orthodox Christianity.

“Why do we wear these? Because that’s what they wore, and we don’t change; we kept the tradition. It’s respect for the holy fathers before,” he said.

When asked what makes the difference between Orthodox Christianity and the many other doctrines designed around the life and teachings of Jesus, Cardoza offered a simple straight answer.

“It’s an unbroken chain of hands,” he said, holding out his hand and touching one with the other.

“From the beginning, we have an unbroken chain of hands, from the day of Pentecost, the apostles and the Holy Spirit. From the laying on of hands, early Christians, these guys died as martyrs, but they would put a hand on the next before they died — it’s an unbroken chain of priesthood,” he said.

The church uses the same liturgy completed in the 4th century. The prayers are the same as those said by St. John. Any Orthodox believer can go to any Orthodox church anywhere in the world and understand the service without understanding the language, through that unbroken chain of hands. That chain is a little strained by the war in Ukraine.

When asked as a priest of the Russian Orthodox church — American born convert or not — what he thinks of the war in Ukraine, he squinted upward and grimaced.

“I hate it. It’s Orthodox hurting Orthodox, so many of them are family. I pray for peace every day; we pray for peace here in the church,” he said.

He has worried the church will be defaced at some point by opponents of Russia and the war. But they have been safe so far.

Services in the church are in stark contrast to Protestant services, he explained. The priests are dressed in regal garments in the colors designated for the priests of the Old Testament — gold, red and violet.

Aside from some pews lining the walls, there is nowhere to sit because no one is supposed to sit. Sitting down in the presence of God is a Western capitulation to comfort, he said.

“When Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, to feed the 5,000, what did he say first for the disciples to do? He said, ‘Have ’em sit down.’ That just goes to show you they’d been standing,” he said.

The sick, the elderly, pregnant or young mothers, those who need a seat or simply attend the service curious but ignorant of custom have free use of the pews, he said.

Without pews, the space was open. The ceilings soared up into the central cupola with the white tile floors shining and the space between the entryway and the altar only a few free steps.

Incense is burned during the service, another tradition carried on from the Old Testament. Christmas is on a different date — Jan. 7 — because Orthodox believers did not update to the relatively modern Gregorian calendar first used in 1582. The Orthodox church stuck to the Julian calendar of 46 B.C. vintage.

The old calendar is lunar, creating much of the discrepancy. Easter is usually on a different date too. Cardoza said his family — like many other Orthodox in the West — holds a secular celebration with gifts Dec. 25 and celebrate the birth of the savior Jan. 7.

Most of the members of St. Innocent are converts, much like both the elder and the younger Cardoza. There are a few Russians, natives to the Orthodox church. Most of the congregation are former Protestants. All are catechumens first, something like being a caterpillar.

In a process roughly the same length of time it takes to gestate human life from conception to birth, the catechumens come to the Father’s house once a week to learn step by step the intricacies of the faith, he explained. Once they complete this process of initiation, then they are baptized and can partake of the holy sacraments.

New converts are studying at Cardoza’s house now, but some members of St. Innocent have been there all along. Some members of the foundational group have passed on, either out of this life or out of the valley, but some were there to see the first liturgy Dec. 18.

St. Innocent is now holding services Saturday evenings at 6, and a divine liturgy Sundays at 10 a.m.

For more information about the church and their building project, see https://tinyurl.com/4vx5j5f2

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.

Father Joshua Cardoza walks out the front door of St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Rogue River. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Father Joshua Cardoza talks about the construction of St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Rogue River, which broke ground under his father in 2015. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Father Joshua Cardoza said much of the construction was paid for with donations from complete strangers who happened to be driving past. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Father Joshua Cardoza talks about the art work inside the church. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The distinctive church is highly visible from Interstate 5 in Rogue River. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

The St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Rogue River. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

A verse is inscripted in the front door handles of the church. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

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