Even before the archbishop arrived to start the great consecration ceremony at St. Martin Orthodox Church, members of the community were there, praying and singing psalms.
And their worship would continue for hours, as an archbishop, two bishops and nine other priests worked to consecrate the church and construct and sanctify its altar.
The complex ceremony, in the eyes of the church’s congregants, makes the space where the altar was built holy ground, which should never have anything else built on it again.
“To receive a great consecration is very much a reception of God’s grace,” said Father James Baglien, the church’s rector for 15 years.
The ceremony is only done once in the life of a church, Baglien said, and is so rare that people came from Greece just to see it.
“Our building had to be complete and we had to achieve suitable stability and longevity for this to be done,” he said.
St. Martin’s, which sits just off Highland Avenue in Corvallis, is part of the Russian Orthodox Church. Baglien said the church’s origins are in a group that started meeting informally in the early 1990s, with families who were tired of commuting to Portland to worship.
The families were given the church’s property, on a parcel overlooking Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center, in the mid-1990s, Baglien said, and then began constructing their timber-framed church in 1996. The structure, a Mediterranean style basilica with north Russian style cupolas on its roof, was completed in 2001 and was initially a private oratory, before opening to the public in 2002 with Baglien as its rector.
But Baglien said even then the church was not finished: it’s taken another 15 years of work by three artists to complete the church’s elaborate frescoes, which Baglien said are some of the most extensive in the Pacific Northwest.
Baglien said the initial and largest frescoes were painted on canvas starting in 1999 and glued into place by a Russian-Canadian nun named Mother Anastasia, who at the time was living in a convent in New York. But as her health declined, she was unable to complete the work and stopped.
Baglien said then an American artist named Mark Hrebinka took over the project from 2004 to 2006, but he eventually had to give up the project because he lost the studio space where he was painting his own icons before installing them. After a long interval Ukrainian-Canadian artist Alexander Koutsenko took over the project and finished it in June.
Baglien said the icons of Christ, saints and other holy figures in the church are not painted in a realistic style. Instead, they are supposed to represent the grace of Christ in all of the figures.
“It’s the underlying spiritual reality we are trying to express here,” he said.
The church also completed a parish hall for social events next to the church in 2015. With the completion of the iconography, Baglien said, the church was truly complete.
“In Orthodox Christianity, we try to have a beautiful space to worship, we often say we want to create a piece of heaven on earth," Baglien said.
Bishop Irenei of Sacramento, who participated in the ceremony, will be giving a lecture titled “Does God Cause Earthquakes?” at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the LaSells Stewart Center.
Visit www.stmartinorthodoxchurch.org for more information about the church, which Baglien said has about 80 members.