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03-02-2010, 11:39 PM
Seven-domed Orthodox church rising in Riverside

February 13, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

A 14th century-style church is rising over Riverside.

Three of the seven domes of the new church of St. Andrew Orthodox Christian Church near UC Riverside were placed onto the steel skeleton of the building Friday. The other four domes are expected to arrive in the next few weeks.

Several dozen parishioners gathered at twilight Friday as the church's pastor, the Rev. Josiah Trenham, and two other Orthodox priests each sprinkled holy water onto an 8-foot aluminum cross and the gold-colored steel central dome, which was spread over two flatbed trucks.

"This image of the cross is blessed and sanctified by the grace of the holy spirit," the black-robed Trenham said over the sound of a gigantic crane's engine.

Moments later, each congregant approached the four-sided cross to kiss it. The crane then lifted the cross into the air, placed it atop the dome and, amid the cheers of the crowd, hoisted the dome skyward.

The church is roughly modeled after a 14th century church in Thessaloniki, Greece. Its $4 million cost reflects the attention to detail and authenticity, Trenham said. The altar and its front partition are being made in Syria of mahogany and marble.

The 12-foot-high oak front doors are being carved in Turkey. The marble floor pieces will likely be crafted in Lebanon. Some of the pictures will be painted by an Orthodox monk from Colorado.

St. Andrew has been housed since 2002 in a 5,000-square-foot white-washed building on Canyon Crest Drive while the congregation raised money for its new 9,400-square-foot church, which will have a terracotta-tile roof, off-white stucco walls and a stone base, Trenham said The old building will become a fellowship hall when the new church opens, which may be as early as August.

The new church fulfills a dream that Inland Orthodox Christians have had since about a dozen people began attending services in a California Baptist University meeting room in 1992. The congregation later moved to a strip mall and then a warehouse before the current building opened.

About 300 people attend services each Sunday. Many are immigrants from countries with large Eastern Orthodox populations, including Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Romania, Russia and Serbia.

The elaborate design of the new church reflects those immigrants' desire for a traditional building, said Saba A. Saba, who grew up in Palestine -- now Israel -- and attended a 4th-century Orthodox church in his hometown of Lydda.

"They wanted to duplicate what they're used to in the country where they are from," said Saba, 79, a parishioner from Temecula who headed the church building committee. "They don't know anything else."

There are several other Eastern Orthodox churches in the Inland area but some, including the Temecula Greek Orthodox church that Saba formerly attended, have portions of their services in Greek, Romanian or other languages that many parishioners do not understand.

services in english

St. Andrew's services are almost entirely in English, with a few Arabic and Greek words.

The Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity -- which includes the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, as well as the Antiochian Orthodox church that St. Andrew belongs to -- observes ancient rites and views itself as the direct descendant of the early Christian church. The theology of Eastern Orthodox churches is identical.

The multiple domes and the barreled and arched ceilings make the building one of the most complex non-residential structures that project manager David Mouck has been involved with in his 34 years in the construction business.

100-plus columns

There are more than 100 columns to support the building, said Mouck, a partner in the Temecula-based Gill Company.

The top of the central dome's cross is 63 feet above the ground. Inside the dome, a painting of Jesus will look down on parishioners, as is traditional in Orthodox churches.

Icons -- which include paintings, frescoes, wood panels and other images of Jesus and the saints -- are an integral element of Orthodox Christianity, Trenham said. Icons of Christ illustrate the miracle of how God came to Earth as a man, and bear witness to how God is always among people, Trenham said.

The current church has some icons, but most of the space on the side walls is white.

Eventually, the new church will be covered in icons, as most Orthodox churches are, Trenham said.

The icons are part of what attracted Kent Joris, of the high-desert town of Phelan, to Orthodox Christianity. Like about half the congregation, Joris, 47, his wife and three children are converts, in his case from a Baptist denomination. He likes the ancient Orthodox rites and their roots in the early Christian church.

In the current building, Joris tries to look straight ahead during worship services, toward the altar and the icons on the altar wall, and not at the mostly white side walls.

"In a sense, you need to block out your peripheral vision," he said.

Joris is anxious for the day when the entirety of the new church is covered in icons, which he said will intensify the connection he feels with early Christians.

"You will have a sense of worshipping not just among the people around you, but among generations of people," Joris said.