"Elizaveta Iurievna Kuzmina-Karavaeva Skobtsova, later known as Mother Maria, was a Russian Orthodox religious thinker, poet and artist. Her multi-faceted legacy includes articles, poems, art, and drama. In the 1910s she was part of the literary milieu of St. Petersburg and was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. She fled Russia soon after the Bolsheviks' takeover and lived in Paris, where she became a nun. In 1935, she participated in organizing the so-called Orthodox Action, which was designed to help Russian immigrants in France. She and her fellow-workers from Orthodox Action opened a house for homeless and sick immigrants in Paris. During the Nazi occupation of the city, the house was transformed into a refuge for Jews and displaced persons. Mother Maria and her son were arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and died in the Ravensbruck camp in Germany. Mother Maria's selfless devotion to people and her death as a martyr will never be forgotten. In 2004, the Holy Synod confirmed the glorification of Mother Maria." - from Columbia University Libraries Special Collection link

Skellig Michael is more than just a Jedi Hang-Out

Star Wars fans may recognize this scene, but it is a long-ago community for Celtic Monastics. Here is a piece I did on that place 10 years ago in my book CAIRN-SPACE:
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Skellig Michael (Michael’s rock) is an island on which a Celtic monastic community was founded in the seventh century, AD. The remoteness and barrenness of the island – seven miles out at sea - are a living physical definition of silence and stillness.
For six hundred years, Celtic monks lived in clochans (stone beehive shaped huts) nestled above the cliff walls of the island.
They were 714 feet above sea level. Like most Celtic monks, they endured the austere ruggedness required of island life. They saw it as an image of the true arena for the spiritual athlete. Battling the monstrous forces of the Norseman was one of the many hardships they faced. Weather was another. Obtaining food yet another. They always battled the stillness and the silence.
The spiritual journey is not easy. The Celtic monks did not shy away from difficulty. They knew it was a battle until the end.
There is some resonance here for the one who battles with the sacred cairns of silence and stillness. If you believe the spiritual life should be easy, you will probably not accept the connection of the pious life with the image of Skellig Michael. If you understand the call of the monks on Skellig Michael, you will probably be willing to give “hesychia” a go.
Perched in the open heat of the Atlantic Ocean, Irish monks – Saint Patrick himself – were said to have done battle with serpents and dragons. It is told that the Archangel Saint Michael joined up with Patrick on the island to aid in the struggle; putting an end to the enemy. Hence the name: Michael’s Rock.
The lore of snakes and demons are beyond commonplace in the lives of the early Christian monks both here and in the deserts.
The imaginations of the heart and mind that crawl out of the cairns of silence and stillness are no less snakes and demons than the ones the monks battled long ago. Anyone attempting to sit quietly knows this.
I often wonder if it is the Adversary we are battling within our lives; or, if we are battling against the call of opportunity from the Holy Spirit. Sure, the Adversary may be the one tempting us into following the mutant trail of arisings in our prayer life, but perhaps these arisings have been allowed by God to give us opportunities to grow. Maybe this is the meaning behind the story of Job. We always have a choice of how we respond to the things that arise in life. How we respond will surely change the neural hardwiring of how we receive life’s arisings in the future.
The image of desolation and isolation is the image of death, silence, stillness, the desert, the Skelligs, Mount Athos, and ultimately the image of the human heart. It is the great place of being alone with the Alone. This is why the spiritual journey is taken up in the desert and the remote places. It is in these places that we discover an energy that is most often left untapped – an energy that is below the surface. People have always known the desert and desolate places to be a cairn for the spiritual life.
The fear of unleashing the mighty powers from Pandora’s box is clearly at the root of why the desert energy is left untapped. We fear we may not be able to control whatever it is that emerges. This is an underlying fear of the spiritual life – we may lose everything. We may unleash a force that will overpower us and take everything from us. This fear becomes a reality in the spiritual journey. Entering the heart is entering the center of a mass confluence of forces. Entering the heart is entering the eye of the storm.
There is a quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas that speaks to this fear. It tells us that if we bring forth that which is within us, what we bring forth will save us. But, if we do not bring forth that which is within us, that which we do not bring forth will destroy us (vs. 70).
We must give passage to the arisings in our hearts and minds. We give passage by acknowledging that they have come forth from within us. We return to our practice to align ourselves with health. The stuff that is coming out of us is coming out of us for a reason. Hiding it or hiding from it is not the answer.
We forget that behind the angels, and demons, and Adversary of the desert is the LORD of all. The Supreme God of life. No demon, or Adversary, or angel for that matter, gains access to us unless God allows this. The things that emerge are known to the Father of Lights. If they come forth, it is so we may be free of them.
We are ultimately asked to yield and surrender to the force from the desert. This force, which is in fact not the Adversary as had we expected, but God Himself, is using the Adversary to purify us. The angels and demons must be brought forth so we may attain to God.
The goal of the spiritual life is hidden in this power of yielding to God. Bonhoeffer alluded to this when he said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” (Cost of Discipleship). We are to die to our preconceived notions of our self. We must die to the old self. We must die in the purification of the heart.
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In cold-war America, the deserts were turned into testing grounds for nuclear devices. Men ran into the sand to test their ability to destroy everything. They unleashed the Armageddon potentiality hidden in the atoms of life. Trampling down all life with death. Immense forces are unleashed in the desert. That means we were unleashing an awesome power toward destruction into our hearts. These were perilous times.
It would appear there is some archetypal acknowledgement that the solitude of the desert is charged with energy, filled with power. Thomas Merton pointed this out to us wonderfully in his book “Thoughts in Solitude”. There is a power in the wilderness of the heart that is greater than we can imagine. The heart is the eye of the storm.
The desert calls us into life on the edge – on the edge of living and dying. God, man, angels, the Adversary, and demons are all in the desert. A place God goes to meet man. A place man goes to meet God. It is a place for which most men have found no use. Except for the ascetics. Except for the “world-destroyers” (reference Oppenheimer’s quote: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." – Bhagavad Gita). The desert is the heart. The heart is the eye of the storm.
Life in the desert is the ultimate grazing place for the ravenous spirit of man and the demons. One may not go into the desert with matted hair and a grizzled appearance. One surely finds them there.
The desert is the great equalizer. All mountains are brought down low, all valleys are filled-in. This is the experience of raw encounter and wrestling with the Divine. God changes us in the desert, even if the desert is a small place in the home and in the heart of the believer. Power, great power is in the desert of the human heart.
What is produced in the desert is a crystallized form of humanity. The surplus of life is boiled away in the encounter and wrestling of the monastic with God. When we analyze the literature that comes from the throngs at Sketis and Nitria we find a body of literature that resembles the haiku or koan. Their words are concise. What they teach us is the ability to reduce things to manageable sizes. Massive concepts and theories are reduced to truncated statements and actions.
The sayings attributed to the Mothers and Fathers of the desert – in the Apophthegmata Patrum - are small in size but mighty in stature. They reveal what is possible for humanity when it removes all barriers to thought-action. When we remove all of the extra words about God, we are left with powerful doses of Divine Meetings. These meetings change us deeply. These meetings are cairns in the desert.
These sayings contain an immense number of references to wrestling with God, angels, and demons. There is something about the desert, about the distillation of the process of the heart, that lends itself to wrestling. Jesus did the same when He was in the Desert. Whether God, or angels, or demons, or the Satan, the power we find in the desert is conflictual at best. It stimulates wrestling encounters. This is another reason it is hard to sit with silence and stillness – we start wrestling. We are battling for our lives, many times.
The desert experience is about the stripping away of everything that is not spiritual. Because of this barrenness, there is time and space for the angels and demons of our personalities to emerge and battle for our attention. When we live in the Empire, the consumerism and bureaucracy of the landscape repels the inner battle and numbs us from feeling the conflicts of being human.
We struggle to make a go of it in the arena of survival and exchange of goods and services. We can find many things to distract us from the battle to purify our souls. Without the distraction, the heart opens up and reveals what is really hidden within it.
We can expect nothing less when we enter the cave of our heart. We may find solace and unity as we begin the work. But, at some point the cell, prayer closet, and heart will become a refiners fire. We will long to flee it, run for the city, and hide from the processes of isolation: purification, enlightenment, and union. Many do not survive the power of the desert and leave it, or die in its heat.
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There is ample speculation about what the monks of Skellig Michael ate. Some say they tilled the rocky soil, some say they raised rabbits, others say they ate fish, seaweed, and bird eggs. I would venture a guess that the “pragmatic monk” (should there have been one on the island) ate whatever was available - whenever it was available. They ate whatever arose.
Look at our biblical narratives about feeding in the desert. Moses and the Israelites ate manna from heaven. Elijah the Tishbite at food dropped off by God’s ravens. Jesus was given the chance to eat stones, John ate locust and honey. Pragmatic.
The work of the heart produces food for the journey. It may not be a sumptuous feast. It may be food that spoils if it is kept in jars for more than a day. The heart produces food; something always arises. Pragmatic.
I remember a powerful story emerging from one of my days of sitting at the cairn of my heart. Memories of my childhood and being left alone in the upstairs to sleep without anyone else up there arose and littered my vista. I remembered the crying out I did for someone to come and sit with me. What a feast that was. My heart gave voice to the depths of my soul: we all long for companionship – even God. I learned to acknowledge the aloneness I had felt as a child.
It took me a while to come to see this experience as nourishing, but in the end it became the fuel that enabled me to live through experiences of isolation, hoping for the redemption of community. It gave me eyes to see and ears to hear the cry of the poor and abandoned. We all long for companionship.
This is the kind of grist that is milled in the heart. This is what we walk away from the desert learning and knowing. These morsels are not always happy thoughts, but they are nourishment for the journey. These are the notions that enable us to understand the call of evangelism.
Evangelism is about helping people address the aloneness of human life. Evangelism exists somewhere between the notion that God is with us, and that when Jesus was alone and in prison we visited Him.
We have to learn to eat what arises.
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There are many practices we can engage in our cairn-space. As we first sit to settle and focus ourselves, we should look to do something that will point us into the silence and stillness with some direction.
I have already mentioned simple prayers, prayer services, or the Psalms. The words of these venues give our heart something to latch onto as we enter the stillness of “hesychia”. If we are reading a Psalm, it may say something about “hiding in the shadow of His wings”. This thought and feeling become a natural image to hold onto as we experience the stillness. We may sense ourselves hidden in God. We may long for the feeling of being held.
There are other practices as well. We can write in a journal and read back what we have written. Then we can sit with the residue of those words. We can read a scripture over and over; listening for the words that jump out at us and speak to us (lectio divina). We may try visualizations - reading a portion of the Gospel stories and inserting ourselves as one or all of the characters.
The key is that we do the practice and then sit with the residues left with us, trusting the Spirit to do a good work in us. Ultimately, the Fathers felt that we should move from this form of imaging and imagination to the utter emptiness of meeting God without image and without word. But, this is a process on a continuum. We must first be able to regulate our stillness through the use of images and imagination.
These radical experiences of emptiness and quiet stillness are experiences that defy the beginner and are surely not something we will encounter for some time. They are gifts that we will be given when we put ourselves to the regular task of wrestling. So at first, we should hold on to something we have taken from our practice.
We may imagine ourselves as the one who gathered all he had and sold it so he could buy a field that held a single pearl of great price. We may visualize ourselves as the woman with an issue of blood that reached through the crowd to touch the hem of Christ’s garment. We may offer ourselves as Simon of Cyrene, shouldering the cross for our Jesus as he walked to Golgotha. Wrestling. Wrestling. Wrestling.
We should have some imagining to hold on to. When the arisings come we go back to the practice. The arisings may take the form of a thought that says, “You don’t need to buy the field, you can just visit it.” Return to the practice. The arisings may take the form of a thought that says, “You’re not as bad off as the woman with an issue of blood.” Return to the practice. Whatever comes forth to distract you from sitting in stillness with the residue of your practice, acknowledge it, and return to your practice.
What is happening in the process of practice and stillness is that we are using images to settle us. We notice an arising and we return to the simple prayer practice that we have begun. Regardless of the practice, the prayers we offer are filled with images that our mind and heart will connect to. This will help us refocus in order to settle down. It will rebuild a path into the stillness of the neural desert.
If we pray a Psalm, our mind will create snapshots of the things in the Psalm that we are reading – images – and we will settle into these. For example if we pray, “As the deer pants for water, so my soul longs for Thee” (Psalm, xlii, 1), we will make an interior image of a thirsty deer and visually connect it with ourselves. Then we approach the stillness with the residue of this image. An arising of thought or emotion may try to lead us off the trail, and so we acknowledge it and we return to our practice and create another focusing image.
In this way we move from imaging to imagelessness. It takes time, but this is the pattern. The heart and the mind work together in the process. The repetition of the process is actually hardwiring the practice into our neural pathways.
The mind often creates the interior image and the heart attaches feeling and impressions to that image. Eventually the heart and mind will cease needing images to settle into silent stillness.
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Most of the monks of the desert or island cairn-space tended to go the journey alone. They still submitted their hearts to an elder for correction. They spoke about what they discovered in their heart with another cairn-builder. This was purposeful.
The intention behind sharing our heart-stuff is having someone else preview the inner process with us. We may begin to feel proud because of our experiences. The fellow journeyman will tell us to be careful of pride. We may find despair or loneliness in the pilgrimage. The fellow journeyman will tell us to be strong and of good cheer. We would go mad if we did not submit our inner process to the community of cairn-builders.
It is a good idea to have a group to share experiences with. This is perhaps the greatest call before the modern Church. Can we produce small “gatherings” (“ekklesia”)– that can be therapeutic communities administering the medicine of the Spirit. Can we grow communities of vulnerable togetherness before God? Can the Church learn the lost art of therapy?
The stories from the “Sayings of the Fathers” remind us of the value of shared experience. In them, we find examples that the shared cairn-experience produces fruit in many, not just one.
The story was shared about Abba Isidore that one day he went to the market to sell the baskets he had made. As he approached the market, anger welled up inside him. He told the journey-folk that he dropped everything and fled because of the anger. He felt all his work had come undone. His distress got the better of him and the distraction of failure won out.
Without the sharing of these tales, the journey-folk would not have seen the value of the struggle. Abba Isidore was reminding them that all we work for could perish in an instant. We could lose all we have established in us; it is possible. He lost hope because of what arose, but he shared this openly so others could learn from his hopelessness. This is why we must collaborate on the journey. Go into the Alone, but bring that experience back to the community.
Abba Isidore is also reminding us that the experiences of the heart do not cinche things up for good. Having heart experiences does not mean we are perfect. Sanctification (or “theosis” in the Eastern Church) is a process, not an event.
We must approach the heart everyday and listen for that day’s wealth, for that day’s arisings. The manna in the wilderness molded if the Jews tried to hoard it for another day’s food. There was no stockpiling of manna. So too, there is no stockpiling of cairn-experience. We go it anew, each and everyday. We have the neural circuitry to enhance the travel, but we must start anew each day.
You would be mistaken to believe that the words here in this book will give you a solid platform on which to stand for the rest of your days. There is one thing that can do that, that is the One. We must approach Him afresh at every opportunity. Like the man who said that he would tear down his barns to build bigger ones to store more for the future; our lives may be required of us this night. Burn down your barns in your mind before you go to sleep.
Give us this day our daily manna. Pragmatic cairn-builders eat whatever is available, when it is available. This is the wisdom of insecurity for our current age of anxiety.

Words about No Words

Everyone gets the irony of words about silence.  You see the title, and you chuckle.

The issues - like in any Zen Koan - lay deeper than that surface observation and are entwined and entangled with everything that is.  This is precisely what make's Maggie Ross's book "Silence: A User's Guide" so very auspicious.  Like the sword that cut the Gordian knot,  she has taken us swiftly to the heart of the matter.

Not only does she help us see the vast landscape of inner processes and aggregates, she gives us new ways to hold onto previous knowledge we bring to the subject.  Left brain and right brain are brought into our conversation early on.  Self-consciousness and deep mind are added to the mix.  Maggie paints for us - just this side of poetry - a vista of simple complexity that opens the mind to the wonder in a grain of sand.  The one that is in the very far corner of this landscape she has given us.  She focuses us again and again in a way that keeps us from plunging down any one rabbit hole for the answer and reminds us that answers are always beyond the beyond.

But, you get the sense from this work that you can really plunge into the stillness of silence and still define its edges while not stepping past them.  You can hallow its precincts with words that are so very light they are transparent and do not block nor encumber the view.

If you will partner with her in the journey, she will give you space to figure out the vastness of the topic.  For, is not silence as expansive as the universe is wide.  While we may have a low-grade hum that is itself ever present in time and space as – I believe she says – a “b-flat”; is not the very constant presence of that thing itself a stillness and a platform upon which all silence is itself silent.  And, there is the thing.  Maggie walks us into riddles and lets us know that there is no one answer that defines “suchness”.  Conundrum is closer to truth than matter.

I have seen the reviews that others have given Maggie's piece and I believe their words speak outside of the framework from within which Maggie is herself speaking.  The richness of her understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the conversations concerning silence, and the patristic pronouncements of formation and direction that she eschews from the desert fathers and mothers, start in medias res and move forward at a rather fair clip.  While anyone can grab hold of the book and join the conversation about silence, you better be prepared to do your homework on areas she inclines to point you toward going in her fast paced conversation.

I love that she spends a whole section of the book talking about the language or words we use in our conversations about silence.  While she does grab hold of a whole lexicon worth our review, there are a few terms I wish she would add.  Theoria and perhaps diakrisis and nepsis could be added.  She leans into the deep headwaters of the Eastern Christian Tradition on silence and I think these words could help sustain some hunger in people for obtaining more in days ahead.  But, all in all, this is a masterful guidebook on the issues.

The true work of silence is really the eternal recreation of creation; the becoming new of the person (and of course the cosmos as well).  Transformation and transfiguration reveal the presence of the depth work that silence avails.  And, clearly this is where silence is apt to take us when we have encountered it as either neophyte or awakened-one; to the path of wholeness.  

Pushing silence out of our lives has fragmented human existence, experience, and rent our being asunder.  Some find Maggie’s conversation about the damaging influences of the modern age upon our psyche and our soul to be harsh.  For me, it sits quite nicely where it belongs – a truth hard to hear.

Maggie's conversation about deep-mind is an extension of - for me - the conversation about deep-imagery in poetry.  It resonates with thinkers used to integrating the presence of the neo-cortex into the life of humanity.  In this instance it is the value of the neo-cortex in humans to help us integrate the nature, and process of silence into all our life.  It is a higher function of human beings – an executive function.  Higher than reptilian "reaction" to life and threats; higher also than mammalian "nurturing" of intimacy and bonding. 

Silence is the ground upon which we stand to gain a vantage point on existence; and from within which we move and have our being.  But, that being said, it is not just an organ of discrimination and healing, it is the very place where our highest functioning as humans with a neo-cortex let go into the world of the spirit.  The place of taking a leap – the place of pure AWARENESS.

This is why Maggie's conversation draws reference on many occasions to Jane Hirshfield's Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry.  It is about mind.  It is about heart.  It is about spirit.  And, it is about the place where these all converge and conjoin. 

Get the book and read it.  You will not be disappointed.

Straight Talk About Death

What we need are more books about death that are conversational.  This one is just that.  You will not find any jargon or catch phrases or medical-gobbledygook here.  This is straight forward conversations about what goes on in and around the dying.  J.I. Willett has given us plain talk about death.

The book begins and ends with a poem - which as a poet, I love.  But the meat of the book concerns our options for who we are, and become while we are going through the dying process.  What kind of character do we want to become?  Will we focus on the present?  Will we be patient with the process?  Will we act the martyr?  All of this is a part of the dialogue our author brings to us - as if sitting across a table in a Parisian cafe and just chatting about our art.

It is something we should read if we have been given a terminal diagnosis - or someone we love has.  But, it is also a good book for helping us to integrate the idea that we will someday die into our current life.

Don't wait.  Read this today.

GIVE to EOTC and help Individuals/Families GROW

EOTC has my vote this holiday season for PLANNED GIVING.  As a recently appointed board member for EOTC I would like to raise some funds for our program.  The supports offered to individuals/families and their growth is broad.  (CLICK on the DONATE Button to the right of this post).

Won't you join me?  A brief description of services is below.  A more thorough look at the details of service is below that.
  • Workforce Development
  • Parent-Child Services
  • Court-Related Programs
  • Reentry Initiatives
  • Community Collaboration
The services provided through the dedicate teams at EOTC reach deep into the need of the community for stability, independence, and growth. Helping individuals and families land on their feet and stay there are in the backdrop of all our serving.
You can reach out and donate to our work by CLICKING HERE and you can add EOTC to your Amazon Smile by CLICKING HERE

ABOUT EOTC From the Executive Director

EOTC is a welcoming place, a gathering place, a safe place … A center for Advancing Families.
EOTC offers strengths-based support, respect, acceptance, perseverance,excellence, inter-dependence … With a focus on Advancing Families. 
EOTC is looking toward the future of our community … And, Advancing Families. Our life experiences shape who we are and what we become. Where do individuals and families go to learn and experience life differently when they did not have the best of circumstances or support?
EOTC’s mission is driven toward enhancing the lives of those in our community through evidenced-based programs and services that encourage family stability and economic self-sufficiency. We believe that there is value and potential in every person. We believe in building trusting relationships in any stage of our lives that carry us through the journey that lies ahead. We believe through Advancing Families, our community can enjoy a better, brighter tomorrow!

EOTC welcomes YOU to join us in our mission in promoting family stability and economic self-sufficiency! (from www.eotc.org)

- Linda A. Ciampi, M.C.Ed. / Executive Director

A DETAIL of the programs made available through EOTC:

1. Workforce Development

EOTC introduced the community’s first employment program for single parent/displaced homemakers and the region’s first open-entry career center for dislocated workers. Recognized as a top performer by Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, EOTC was also selected by the National League of Cities to pilot a Transitional Jobs model. Today, EOTC assists unemployed and under-employed individuals of all backgrounds,particularly those with multiple barriers to employment.

Job Search Support
EOTC offers life skills and personal development for individuals seeking to obtain or upgrade employment. Job Search Group meets Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m. and serves as a weekly, open-entry access point to assist any job seeker. Examples of services: Customized resumes and interview preparation Career advising and coaching for job success Computer lab to support job readiness and job search

Fatherhood Initiative
EOTC‘s Responsible Fatherhood programming includes group and individual services to promote job readiness, responsible parenting, and healthy child/family relationships.

2. Parent-Child Services

EOTC promotes child development and strengthens families through early child screenings, pre-kindergarten activities, parenting classes and intervention for families with critical needs. For information, contact the EOTC Scranton Area Family Center at 348-6484.

Parents as Teachers/Early Head Start
Parents as Teachers is the flagship curriculum for Pennsylvania Family Centers. Certified specialists work with parents during the early critical years of their children’s lives, from conception to kindergarten. Parents as Teachers home visits emphasize positive parenting, school readiness, and overall family well-being. Activities include guided parent-child interaction, healthy development screenings, and information/referral. Through a grant from Pennsylvania Children’s Trust Fund, EOTC offers intensive case management services to assist Parents as Teachers participants exhibiting critical needs. Click to learn more about Home Visitation.

Play & Learn Group
This weekly early learning program for young children and their parents encourages socialization and experiential learning through play. Group sessions focus on early literacy and child development, and address relevant parenting topics. The program is funded entirely by local donors.

Incredible Years®
One of the biggest challenges facing parents is to help their children handle strong emotions, particularly negative ones like frustration and anger. The research-based Incredible Years® curriculum helps parents foster their child’s confidence, problem solving abilities and learning skills. Three distinct programs are available to address typical child behavior concerns as well as specialized needs such as autism and hyperactivity. Parents/caretakers of children ages 3-12 are invited to register by calling 348-6484. EOTC offers meals, transportation and childcare to participants.

Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance
EOTC/Scranton Area Family Center is affiliated with Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, the state’s leading provider of training on how to recognize and report child abuse and neglect.

EOTC works with other state, national and local organizations to promote the safety and well-being of children through research-based prevention and education models. Cost-benefit analyses by the Penn State Prevention Research Center and other researchers reflect that, for every $1.00 spent on high-quality programs, taxpayers receive savings related to child health, education, substance abuse and crime. Penn State researchers found an estimated average return of up to $12 million per community for a single program funded by Pennsylvania taxpayers – from $54 to nearly $80,000 per youth over time.

3. Court-Related Programs

Examples of EOTC programs that help individuals or families affected by court-ordered directives:

Access and Visitation
For parents with child custody issues, EOTC offers supervised visitation for non-custodial parents at the Scranton Area Family Center. Parents and children can meet regularly in a safe, welcoming environment. Adults improve parenting skills and receive help with child support questions.Parent-child bonds are maintained and strengthened.Currently, over 30 families participate in EOTC’s supervised visitation services — benefitting about 90 children. Because of the program, more than 90% of participants reach co-parenting agreements, and child support payments are maintained or increased. Based on EOTC outcomes compared to national supervised visitation expectations, the taxpayer benefit is $3.00 of increased child support for every $1.00 spent for the program.

Time Limited Family Reunification
The Family Reunification program is offered in partnership with Lackawanna County Children and Youth Services, with the goal of finding stable, permanent placement for certain children in the foster care system.  EOTC provides intensive case management to assist 34 families each year, benefitting approximately 65 children. EOTC reunification specialists work with the children and their foster families in order to reduce the number of placement moves during foster care. During this period, our specialists also work with parents to help stabilize the family situation, with the hope of reuniting children with their families within 15 months or less.  EOTC helps families to address parenting and substance abuse issues, medical and mental health needs, housing and employment, and other concerns that detract from a safe, stable home environment.

Specialized Case Management – Support for Women and Veterans
Each year, EOTC provides life skills and employment services for more than 70 men and women involved in Lackawanna County diversion programs. Working in collaboration with County Treatment Court, the Probation/Parole system and other partners, EOTC provides family-focused assessments, individual case management, job coaching and a safety net of resources. Last year, over half of these former offenders made strides through sobriety and other positive life changes. Over 75 children benefited from their parents’ involvement in these EOTC services.

4. Reentry Initiatives

Life Skills and Job Readiness Training at Lackawanna County Prison
For over 15 years, EOTC has helped prepare former offenders for successful return to the community. The family members of prisoners are encouraged to participate in EOTC’scommunity-based programs. EOTC provides a variety of services inside Lackawanna County Prison including:

Criminogenic Risk Assessments
EOTC provides assessments and recommendations for approximately 1,900 County prisoners annually. Based on assessment, each individual is provided with information on resources for productive return to the community.

Life Skills/Reintegration Classes
Each year more than 600 incarcerated men and women participate in EOTC‘s pre-release program. Classes are voluntary. Programming includes education in drug/alcohol recovery, anger management, employment readiness, healthy relationships and other life-work skills.

Reentry Improvement Initiative is an intensive 45 day pre-release program serving more than 120 men annually. Drawing from evidence-based strategies, the cognitive behavioral course addresses addictions recovery, personal responsibility, parenting, workplace literacy, budgeting and other practical skills for positive transition.

Women-in-Transition Mentoring
EOTC facilitates pre- and post-release programming for more than 150 women annually. In addition to classes in life and work skills, the program includes innovative strategies such as artistic expressions and mentoring.  Volunteer community mentors provide supportive relationships to help participants set positive goals and acclimate to the local community.

Post-Release Reintegration
Returning citizens are encouraged to follow-up with program instructors upon release and to participate in services offered at the EOTC Seventh Avenue Center.
Women’s Support Groups meet twice weekly to provide an integrated support system of caring relationships and transitional services that guide and support women returning to the community.

Job Search Support Group meets weekly on Tuesdays from 10:00 a.m.– noon. Our specialists can provide resume assistance, job leads, and other resources to address the complicated issues that arise for men and women during community reentry.

GED Preparation/Educational Tutoring is offered to returning citizens. Individual instruction and practice tests are provided in preparation for the GED exam.

5. Community Collaboration

In its mission to provide vital services to the community, EOTC actively collaborates with other agencies and partners. These cooperative efforts assess community needs, seek consumer input, identify appropriate models, and steer programs and fund development efforts. In addition to serving as managing partner for the collaborative Scranton Area Family Center, EOTC is active on several community boards such as the Lackawanna County Criminal Justice Advisory Board and the Center for Family Engagement (child welfare planning).

Communities That Care
For more than a decade, EOTC has promoted the nationally recognized Communities That Care model for positive youth development. Examples of our work include: facilitation of the PA Youth Survey to help identify community needs; involvement in the County’s anti-truancy initiative; leadership of an interagency consortium to increase the availability of mentoring for at-risk youth; and the replication of research-based violence prevention programs, such as the Incredible Years model.

Child Welfare and Education Initiatives
EOTC is a member of Lackawanna County’s Success by Six coalition, the Drug and Alcohol Commission’s service improvement team, the Interagency Council and similar strategic efforts. The agency spearheads efforts to proliferate effective programs. For example, EOTC facilitated training for area case workers to learn Family-Group 
Decision Making, a strategy that helps families overcome challenging issues such as reunification after a child’s foster care placement.

Special Court Case Management Teams
EOTC works collaboratively with cross-agency teams supporting Lackawanna County Court initiatives, including Treatment Court, Mental Health Court and Intensive Reunification Court (dependency cases).  In addition to providing case management services for individuals and families referred by the Court, EOTC responds with innovative group programs such as a new Women’s Transition program offered in collaboration with the County Treatment Court.

New Book on Saint Tikhon of Moscow

As a student of history and an author, I know the deep value of having access to primary sources in order to piece together timelines, articles, essays, content, and chapters for biographies, articles, treatises, and other secondary sources.  This current volume begins there and is a sensational repository of vital primary source material of the life of Saint Tikhon of Moscow, but also of the early days of Orthodoxy in America. Both history and spirit.  To have it set free from its original tongue into English has long been awaited, but is now complete and in an exemplary fashion.  One to be expected from the fine array of scholars put to the task and labors of such a project.  Thank you all.

But, even more finely arrayed all along the reading of this genuine tapestry of patristic love and devotion are vignette after vignette of paternal tenderness and counsel.  The use of scripture in these Arch Pastoral homilies and renderings for the flock is so rich and full of Old and New Testament and Apostolic urgings for the people of God, that it should put to rest all Protestant complaints that Orthodoxy is weak in its application of scripture.  Reading these words one gets the genuine sense that Saint Tikhon of Moscow is not only familiar with the scriptures, but that the shepherd like tenderness that he uses to keep the flock moving ahead and safe is genuinely a part of his depths and not just tacked on in the sermons.  His use of the Canon only amplifies his love for his flock - a genuine proof to his sanctity.  That we are able to read it, contemplate it, meditate on it and do so in the very sacred precincts and on the holy soil upon which he stood here in America is only cream on the surface - on the surface of such wonder.

Of sweet joy to all who have stood on the ground of the monastery and church will be the address to those gathered at the Consecration of Saint Tikhon's Monastery and Church on 17/30 May 1906.  Pure honey.

For all students of history, all theologians of the American Orthodox scene, and all people with a genuine heart for the gentle firmness of a pastoral saint - this book is a must.

Order at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/St-Tikhon-Moscow-Instructions-Teachings-ebook/dp/B01IQFTO0W