"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

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

Dreaming Pop-pop - A storybook helping children through GRIEF

Johnson-Medland & Sons Booksellers releases "DREAMING POP-POP", today. Our first book published by Johnson-Medland & Sons Booksellers.

The book was written through the process of healing with our boys after the loss of my dad 14 years ago. The storybook leads kids through their dreams and feelings of loss; helping them to use journaling and transference objects to make sense of the feelings of being lost in our loss.

From the Site:

Losing loved ones is a difficult part of being human.  We spend our days lauding the many acts of love that enable us to grow closer to each other - we value community and growing in intimacy.

When we lose someone we love we feel the subtle tearing away of the countless bonds between our hearts.  It is not easy to interpret what is going on - even as adults.  Helping children to know what is going on amid grief can feel that much harder.

This simple book talks about a child's dreams, drawings, pictures, memory box and a process of healing that is aided by his parents, a Social Worker, and his school Guidance Counselor.  It reveals a concrete way of looking at the feelings that emerge amid grief and loss by implementing the tools of journaling, gathering of transference objects, and talking things through with those around us.

This book challenges us to remember those we love and integrate our losses with our memories, our feelings, our hopes and our dreams.  Join this child as he implements some rudimentary methods for processing grief.

A Kenyan Orphanage Could Use Your Help

Dear Friends,
There is an Orthodox Church in Kenya led by Father Mark Mwangi Kibui and his wife Presvytera Alice Mwangi that are housing orphans on site and they are looking for some church sponsors here in the US and abroad to help them with these children. If your church, your organization, or you yourself are looking for a sister organization to partner with to relieve suffering, I would reach out to this couple.
I know in this day and age the internet scams coming out of Africa are many, so I have reached out to the Patriarchate of Alexandria (under the Greek Orthodox Church) and have established a process where the funds can be sent to the Greek Orthodox Church via Athens and then dispersed to the orphanage in Kenya from there.
This level of legitimacy should help you feel secure in your donations. I have the accounts of the Patriarchate of Alexandria on file and would be glad to furnish them to you or your organization to help Father Mark and Presvytera Alice.
Ideally they would like to have people sponsor the orphans schooling at the local private school. This can be arranged directly by contacting them on facebook and then getting an email to them for private conversations.
These folks are genuinely compassionate and loving people and the children are in great need. Information on them can also be found at this website. It gives a little fuller view of these servants of God.

Contribute here https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/7122l0?utm_campaign=story-update&utm_medium=email&utm_source=09-2015 at this reputable Organization or at the Alexandrian Patriarchate below.

Patriarchate of Alexandria's Accounts for donations:

Saint Mary of Egypt

St. Mary, who is known as Mary of Egypt, lived in the middle of the fifth century and at the beginning of the sixth century. Her youth did not presage anything good. Mary was twelve years old when she left her home for the city of Alexandria. Being free of parental oversight, young and inexperienced, Mary was allured by a life of depravity. There was no one to stop her on the way to perdition, and there were not a few temptations. Thus, for seventeen years Mary lived in sin, until the merciful Lord turned her to repentance.

It happened thus. By coincidence, Mary joined a group of pilgrims bound for the Holy Land. While sailing with the pilgrims on the ship, Mary did not cease from seducing men and sinning. On getting to Jerusalem, she joined the pilgrims who were heading for the Church of Christ's Resurrection.

People were entering the church in an large throng, but Mary was stopped at the entrance by an invisible hand and could not by any efforts enter it. Here she understood that the Lord was not permitting her to enter into the holy place because of her impurity.

Seized by horror and a feeling of profound repentance, she began to entreat God to forgive her sins, promising to radically correct her life. Seeing an icon of the Mother of God at the entrance of the church, Mary began to beg the Divine Mother to plead for her before God. After this, she immediately felt a clearing up in her soul and entered the church unhindered. Having poured out abundant tears at the Lord's Tomb, she went out of the church a completely different person.

Mary fulfilled her promise to change her life. From Jerusalem, she withdrew into the harsh and barren Jordanian Desert, and there spent almost half a century in complete solitude, in fasting and prayer. Thus, by severe ascetic feats, Mary of Egypt completely eradicated in herself all sinful desires and made her heart a pure temple of the Holy Spirit.

The Elder Zosima, who lived in the Jordanian Monastery of the Prophet John the Forerunner, was deemed worthy, by God's providence, to meet Venerable Mary in the desert, when she was already an extremely old woman. He was struck by her holiness and gift of clairvoyance. He saw her once during prayer as if raised up above the earth, and another time ­ walking over the river Jordan, as if on dry land.

In parting with Zosima, Venerable Mary asked him to come again to the desert in a year to give her Communion. The Elder returned at the appointed time and gave Venerable Mary Communion of the Holy Mysteries. Then, when he went into the desert after another year in the hope of seeing the Saint, he did not find her among the living.

The Elder buried the remains of Venerable Mary there in the desert. In this a lion helped him, who dug a hole with his claws for burying the body of the righteous one. She died in the year 521.

Thus, from a great sinner, Venerable Mary became, with God's help, a very great saint and left such a striking example of repentance. Her memory is marked on the 1st of April (according to the Church calendar) and on the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent.