The fog that blanketed most of town Sunday morning gave way to clear skies in the hills of northwest Corvallis, allowing the sun to light up the gold domes atop St. Martin the Merciful Orthodox Church. The church was celebrating its fifth anniversary after opening its doors to the public in 2002.
St. Martin's has a long way to go to catch up with several local churches that have been around more than 100 years. But this weekend's celebration is a spiritual milestone for a group of people who went from meeting in each other's homes in the early 1990s to a congregation of about 60 in the small church building off Highland Drive designed to look like a 16th-century north Russian parish.
Before then, church families used to commute several hours every Sunday to either Mulino or Rogue River to participate in the liturgy before their building was finished in 2001 and regular services began a year later with the ordination of the Rev. James Baglien as their resident priest.
It is one of two Orthodox congregations in Corvallis and one of just three in the state affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
St. Anne's Orthodox Church, which meets in the Lewisburg Grange Hall on Northeast Elliott Circle, is affiliated with the Orthodox Church in America.
The ringing of church bells Sunday morning pealed through the frigid air as the Most Rev. Archbishop Kyrill Dimitrieff of San Francisco arrived. Church member Don Ferguson then greeted the head of the Western American Diocese on the front porch in an ancient Russian tradition where the bishop is given an offering of bread and salt to symbolize the labor of the people.
A warmer welcome waited inside where candles glowed, incense permeated the air and about 75 people were gathered for the Hierarchal Divine Liturgy. A festive trapeza, or potluck feast, followed in the fellowship hall of Grace Lutheran Church.
Now, the church is recognized as an active parish within the diocese and a vibrant Orthodox witness in the community.
"For the people who come here, this is their home, their family and their anchor," Baglien said.
St. Martin's is a diverse congregation in terms of the members' ethnic, socioeconomic and spiritual backgrounds. Many of the newcomers to the Orthodox faith seem to be attracted to the serenity they feel worshipping there.
"I've been struck by how many people have said our parish is an island of 'calm,'" Baglien said. "We live in a very frenetic world and for many people we represent a refuge from that 'noise' and 'commotion.'"
A former business executive, Baglien believes that's due partly to the church's pastoral setting where deer frequently graze on the church grounds amidst towering firs.
Their traditional style of worship also contributes to a feeling of serenity, he added. Services last about two and a half hours, and feature candlelight, incense, chanting of Scripture and a cappella choir music. Sometimes the choir sings antiphonally, an ancient technique in which a choir divides in half to sing alternately to each other from opposite sides of the church.
Future plans call for a separate parish hall to be built later this year. More space is needed to accommodate the church's classes, feasts and fellowships which are currently held in the priest's home across the road.
Members would also like to install a covered sitting area for people who walk up to the church along a path from The Corvallis Clinic and Good Samaritan Regional Health Center.
"We've had lots of people say they see the domes and crosses on top of the church from their hospital rooms and that they bring them comfort. And a lot of people that work at the hospital or clinic take walks up here on their lunch hour. We don't want to discourage them in any way," Baglien said.
St. Martin the merciful orthodox church
925 N.W. Camellia Drive
St. Martin's weekly worship schedule includes a 6 p.m. Vigil on Saturdays and Divine Liturgy at 9:30 a.m. every Sunday.
For detailed directions or more information about the church, call 738-0600.