June 4, 2016
Coconut Creek, FL: Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan visits St. Luke the Blessed Surgeon Church at Paideia Classical Academy

On Monday, April 18, Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan, vicar of the Eastern American Diocese, visited St. Luke the Blessed Surgeon Mission at Paideia Classical Academy in Coconut Creek, FL, on his way to Haiti on an archpastoral visit. Last year, His Grace visited the parish with the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God. This year, Bishop Nicholas’ visit coincided with the visitation to the school and church of the wonderworking and myrrh-streaming Icon of the Mother of God "Softener of Evil Hearts," visiting from Russia.

"Every icon is wonderworking, and is in itself a window into the Heavenly tabernacles," said Bishop Nicholas. "But this icon, in addition to this, is also myrrh-streaming. We see droplets of myrrh form on the glass and on the icon itself, and this is a great miracle. What does it mean? People today yearn for a sign, although I cannot say if this is a good sign or something else. But I can say for certain that God reveals unto us His compassion, commiserating and co-suffering with us, and so gives us this myrrh visibly, so that we might see it, sense it, so that we can touch it and, as we see this holy myrrh, faith might be confirmed within us, and we might understand that we are walking the true path and living in a Christian manner."

His Grace noted that the icon had come from Moscow and had already traveled throughout the entire Eastern American Diocese, in order to offer spiritual support to the clergy and faithful in the days of Great Lent.

Bishop Nicholas thanked the icon’s guardian, Sergey Fomin – who this year (at 50 days) is carrying out the longest yet visitation of the icon to the churches and monasteries of the Eastern American Diocese – for his devotion and love for the Orthodox Christians in America.

Bishop Nicholas led a moleben and akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos before her icon "Softener of Evil Hearts," co-served by parish rector Priest Demetrio Romeo, Archpriest Daniel McKenzie (rector of St. Vladimir Church in Miami), and local clergy. He reminded the gathered faithful of the need to remain steadfast in the remaining days of Great Lent, in order to worthily greet Christ’s Glorious Resurrection.

Also praying at the moleben were local clergy of various jurisdictions, school administrators, teachers, and students, and faithful from neighboring cities. The choir sang prayerfully under the direction of Katherine Lukianov. Upon completion of the moleben, Bishop Nicholas anointed everyone with myrrh from the holy image, and met with the school’s administrators.

Dr. Paola Weber, founder and current principal of Paideia Classical Academy, explains that the funds needed to open the school were gathered through donations over the course of thirty years by the Spanish-language Holy Apostles Mission (now an Orthodox Church in Miami under ROCOR), and is currently the only Orthodox comprehensive school in Florida. The Academy is open to all students, and is comprised of a pre-school, kindergarten, and grades 1-12.

The school’s motto is based on the words of the Holy Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians: "Bring them [children] up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). It is namely in this epistle that the holy apostle uses the Greek word "paideia" to mean the union of education and upbringing. So too here, the most important thing in the educational and rearing process is bringing up the students in the virtues, in love for beauty, and in directing them toward good deeds.

"The goal of our school," continues Dr. Weber, "is the development of the children’s mind through a classical education; the body, through clean living, an organic diet, physical exercise, classical dancing; and the soul, through the Orthodox Faith. Once a week, the children pray at Liturgy, which is celebrated by the rector of St. Luke’s Mission Priest Demetrio Romeo, who also teaches at the school. If a major feast falls on a weekday, when we serve Liturgy then, as well."

Children of various nationalities (including Russians) and socioeconomic backgrounds attend the school. Today, roughly fifty percent of the students are Orthodox, while the rest represent various other Christian confessions. Teachers include Orthodox Serbs, Romanians, Greeks, Americans, Moldovans, Ukrainians, German-Americans, Cuban-Americans, and other Latinos.

"Classes in our school are taught in English. As in any classical educational institution, our students study three foreign languages: Greek and Latin, as well as – in addition to English – Spanish, widely spoken both in our state and around the country. The youngest students start with Spanish, then begin Greek in kindergarten, and start studying Latin in third grade. The classical languages open up a path for them both to other languages and to various professions: engineering, medicine, law, and various artistic fields." Paola herself has seven children, six of whom study at the Academy.

After studies, the children take ballroom dancing lessons, play on the piano or violin, and play soccer. The wonderfully equipped, 10-acre school grounds include a playground, a garden where organic vegetables are grown, and a butterfly garden, where you will undoubtedly be informed that Coconut Creek is known as the "Butterfly Capital of the World."

The Church of the Holy Hierarch Luke of Simferopol, the Surgeon, is the only church in the United States dedicated to the memory of this saint. The church also contains an icon with a piece of the saint’s relics.

"The church and the priest himself are a great blessing for our school," says Paola. The classes all have icons, and the children pray before the start of lessons, at lunch, and at the end of the school day.

"Originally, the territory on which the school complex was built was named for the Holy Apostle & Evangelist Luke. We wanted to keep his name, his prayerful intercession, and his blessing on our school. And soon we received a blessing from Metropolitan Hilarion to consecrate our church in honor of the Holy Hierarch Luke, who was named for the Holy Apostle Luke. Now we have two intercessors, both of whom were physicians."

"The decision to name our church in honor of St. Luke took place on the very day that I served my first Liturgy in the Synodal Cathedral of the Sign in New York City," explains Fr. Demetrio Romeo. "The Liturgy was taking place in the presence of the Kursk Root Icon of the Mother of God, and that day, several of the servers all simultaneously had the idea to name our church in honor of St. Luke of Simferopol. With the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion, that was what we named our church. When I arrived and served the first Liturgy here, it was on March 18, 2013. As it turns out, it was that same day in 1996 when the holy relics of Archbishop Luke (Voino-Yasenetsky) were uncovered.

Fr. Demetrio is Italian, raised in Canada. He received Orthodoxy in Florida in 2007; a year later, his wife Hannah converted, as well, followed by their daughter. In 2010, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York ordained him to the diaconate. Thus began for Fr. Demetrio his service at St. Vladimir Church in Miami, alongside the rector of that parish, Archpriest Daniel McKenzie. Three years later, he was ordained a priest, and from that time has been serving in the church at the Classical Academy in Coconut Creek.

"Our parish began with only handful of parishioners, but now has 45 members," says Fr. Demetrio. "The services are performed in the Russian tradition, primarily in English, with some Spanish, Romanian, and Slavonic exclamations and hymns added, depending on who has come to church. Now we have a choir, as well. Services are held on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, and also on all major feasts if these take place during the week. During the week, a Liturgy and moleben to St. Luke are served specially for our students.

"When we only just started, the number of non-Orthodox students was around ninety percent. Now, many students and their families have converted to Orthodoxy, and the number of Orthodox students has reached fifty percent. In addition to the divine services, we take the older children on pilgrimage trips: we have visited Jordanville, and toward the end of Great Lent hope to visit Panagia Vlahernon Greek Monastery in Ocala."

With every passing year, the number of students in the school grows, and next year will reach 75. This will be a full K-12 school, from which students can matriculate directly at institutions of higher learning. And the school will continue to adhere in every way to the testament of the Holy Apostle Paul to "Bring the children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;" for, as the Wise Solomon says in his Proverbs, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6).

Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese