The Byzantine structure going up on East Fifth Street near North Wilmot Road is a $1.9 million church that's being built to accommodate growth among local Orthodox Christians.

The new church is particularly significant for members of Holy Resurrection Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church because of its architecture, which includes a central dome, something the 41-year-old congregation has never had.

"The dome for us signifies God coming down to redeem us," said the Rev. Philip Nixon, who has been the church's pastor since 2002.

"We believe God comes down to us. The way he did it was by the incarnation of Jesus Christ and that's why we'll have an icon of Christ in the dome."

The church was founded in 1969 with a handful of members holding services in rented space with a visiting priest from Phoenix.

Two years later the congregation held its first service in a converted Baptist church tucked behind North Oracle Road and West Glenn Street, at 715 W. Vanover Road. Members worshiped there until 2009 when they sold the building to St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church.

The worship space in the Vanover Road church held 135 people and long ago had become too small for Holy Resurrection's congregation, which includes about 300 people, Nixon said. Holy Resurrection has been steadily adding members, he noted.

The new church will have more than double the seating capacity of the old building.

"We have a good-sized Middle Eastern population, and also Eastern European," Nixon said. "Some are Orthodox Christians coming back to the faith, and people converting from other faiths."

Nixon is a former evangelical Christian who converted to Orthodox Christianity in 1987.

"There's a lot of randomness out there in terms of Christian expression and a lot of people are looking for something foundational and historic," he said.

Since the sale of the old church, Holy Resurrection has been using space provided by St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 1145 E. Fort Lowell Road. The two congregations are holding joint services this summer.

The new 7,200-square-foot church sits on nearly 3 1/2 acres at 5910 E. Fifth St., between North Craycroft and North Wilmot roads and directly east of Sewell Elementary School.

Plans include constructing a fellowship hall and education building, but there's no timetable for that at the moment. For now, Nixon expects to hold Bible study and church functions at the home he shares with his wife, Theodora. The house is on property adjacent to the new church. He and his wife bought the home this year and moved in last month.

The church's scheduled opening date is mid-November. While delays are possible, the church will need to be finished by December, as the bishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Diocese of Los Angeles is celebrating Christmas at Holy Resurrection, Nixon said. The diocese includes Tucson.

The new church features traditional Byzantine architecture typical of Orthodox churches throughout the world. It will have two domes - a small one covering the bell tower and the large, central dome. The large dome is 32 feet in diameter and will be 43 feet high - a height that required getting approval from the Tucson City Council. Both domes will feature a cross.

A crane is expected to put the central dome in place sometime this week. Right now the dome's steel structure is sitting on the property alongside the church.

The structure will also have hints of Southwestern-Spanish mission churches and will be a neutral color that blends in with the desert, officials say.

The new church has been a decade-and-a-half in the making and the timing right now couldn't have been better as Nixon said the slumped economy has kept down costs.

"We hope the architecture will be a beautiful addition to the city and neighborhood," Nixon said. "We look forward to contributing to the well-being of the community in any way that we can be helpful."

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at or 573-4134.