Communion of Saints and sinners

Metropolitan Antony of Sourozh

Perhaps in these days that follow the feast of the Resurrection of Christ more than ever can one perceive clearly, passionately, that all the life of the world is one, and all the life of the Church is held in that mysterious communion of saints and sinners, which is the world in becoming. The Liturgy, the common prayers of the Church cannot be understood, apart from this communion of saints and of sinners. Διαβάστε τη συνέχεια του άρθρου »

Some miracles performed by the right hand of Saint John the Baptist (Holy Monastery of Saint Dionysios, Holy Mount Athos)

Just as we are referring to the wonders performed by Saint John, The Baptist, in the present times, we are not departing from our purpose if we also refer to some miracles performed in the past, which have so far been unknown to most of our brothers, through which it is brilliantly manifested how he protects and helps the monastery and its monks…

We will omit the totally unexpected and paradoxical appearance of this protection by the Saint, because its detailed description is read during the joint feast on the day of its commemoration, the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

Let’s talk about some events which took place in the island of Poros, and refer to the dangers which those who were at sea have avoided from the day of their departure. In order to avoid talking about these things ourselves, let’s us present the account given by the Abbot Stephanos, who refers to the reasons for this sea voyage and to some historical facts. (These accounts are found in Code 627 of the monastery, 1733-1833).

He writes: “Kassandra has fallen, everyone have been taken captives by the agarinous(Turks) who have even been threatening to capture Ayio Oros. When the monks saw the Turks advancing, they picked up their holy relics and left towards romeiko. I also left among them, with my holy relics. Taking those of the monks who wanted to leave, we deserted the monastery on the 23 of February 1821.  read more… Διαβάστε τη συνέχεια του άρθρου »

“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXXVII)

holy sepulcher church praying

Continued from (Part XXXVI)

Mechanics of Prayer.

The Church of Christ teaches us prayers composed by righteous and holy men. The Holy Fathers and Ascetics of the Church, enlightened by the grace of God, have composed many beautiful prayers, filled with holy thoughts and deep feeling for the guidance and admonition of Christians. We hear these prayers in Church during the Divine Services, but for private prayer at home, each Christian must recite the prayers contained in the Prayerbook.

When we begin to pray, we do not immediately break off from our daily tasks and just start praying, but we must prepare ourselves. As the Prayerbook says: “Stand in silence for a few moments until all your senses are calmed.” Furthermore, as Holy Scripture tells us: Before offer-ing a prayer, prepare yourself; and do not be like a man who tempts the Lord (Sirach 18:23). In addition to this, before entering into prayer, one must prepare himself not only inwardly, but also outwardly.

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXXVI)

prayer

Continued from (Part XXXV)

Orthodox Prayer.

The goal of the Christian’s life on earth is salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ and, at the same time, communion with God. The means for this communion is prayer, and through his prayer the Christian is joined in one spirit with the Lord (I Cor. 6:17). Prayer is the focal point and foundation of spiritual life and the source of salvation. Without prayer, as St. John Chrysostom says, there is no life in the spirit. Without prayer man is deprived of communion with God and can be compared to a dry and barren tree, which is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matt. 7:19).

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXXV)

The Wedding at Cana

Continued from (Part XXXIV)

Holy Matrimony.

In the theology of the Orthodox Church man is made in the Image of the Most-holy Trinity, and, except in certain special cases (such as monasticism, for example), he is not intended by God to live alone, but in a family situation. Just as God blessed the first humans, Adam and Eve, to live as a family, to be fruitful and multiply, so too the Church blesses the union of a man and a woman. Marriage, however, is not a state of nature, but is rather a state of grace, and married life is a special vocation (no less than the special calling of monasticism), requiring a gift or charism from the Holy Spirit — this gift being conferred in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXXIV)

Πατριαρχική Θεία Λειτουργία (Χριστούγεννα 2002)

Continued from (Part XXXIV)

Holy Orders.

In the Orthodox Church there are to be found three “Major Orders”-Bishop. Priest and Deacon — and two “Minor Orders” — Subdeacon and Reader (although in ancient times there were other “Minor Orders” which have now fallen into disuse). The Holy Apostles appointed seven men (Church Tradition calls them “Deacons”) to perform a special serving ministry (Acts 6:2-6) and in his first Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul speaks of various ministries in the Church (1 Cor. 12:28). Likewise, he addresses his Letter to the Philippians, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philip pi, with the bishops and deacons (Phil. 1:1). In his first Letter to Timothy, the Holy Apostle also speaks of the qualifications of Bishops and Deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13), as well as in his Letter to Titus (1.5-9).

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXXIII)

St Basil

Fresco of Basil the Great in the cathedral of Ohrid. The saint is shown consecrating the Gifts during the Divine Liturgy which bears his name.

Continued from (Part XXXII)

A Lament for Sin.

St. Basil the Great says, “Weep over your sin: it is a spiritual ailment; it is death to your immortal soul; it deserves ceaseless, unending weeping and crying; let all tears flow for it, and sighing come forth without ceasing from the depths of your heart.”

In profound humility I weep for all my sins, voluntary and involuntary, conscious and unconscious, covert and overt, great and little, committed by word and deed, in thought and intention, day and night, at every hour and minute of my life.

I weep over my pride and my ambition, my self-love and my boastfulness;

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXXII)

Paining by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov

Paining by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov

Continued from (Part XXXI)

Holy Repentance (Penance — Confession).

The Sacrament of Repentance developed early in the Church’s history in the time of the persecutions of the 3rd and 4th Centuries, when many people, giving in to the threats of the persecutors, apostasized and fell away from the Church. Apostasy was considered to be a very serious sin; many held the extreme position that such could not be received back into the Church in their lifetime, while others held that those who had lapsed should be re-baptized — that is, their sins should be washed away by a second baptism. Moderation, in the course of time, prevailed and a penitential discipline — the Sacrament of Repentance — developed, taking on the meaning of Second Baptism; for this reason it was eventually numbered among the Sacraments of the Church.

After the end of the persecutions, the Sacrament of Repentance remained, so that in the event of sins committed after Baptism, forgiveness could be obtained and the sinner reconciled to the Church. This Sacrament acts also as a cure for the healing of a soul, since the Priest also confers spiritual advice to the Penitent.

Since all sin is not only against God, but also against one’s neighbor, confession and the penitential discipline in the early Church were a community affair and took place publicly before the whole local Christian community. In time, however, Confession has developed into a private action between the Priest and the Penitent, and the Priest is forbidden to reveal to any third party what he has learned in Confession.

In ancient times, before the beginning of Confession, it was appointed to read an entire series of Psalms from which Psalm 51 has been preserved in the present rite, being known as the Penitential Psalm. Then the Priest reads certain prayers, the first of which recalls King David who repented before Nathan the Prophet when he had caused the death of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba whom David loved. After being rebuked by Nathan, David confessed, I have sinned against the Lord! Read more…  Διαβάστε τη συνέχεια του άρθρου »

“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXXI)

Panagia i Vatopaidini 2

Continued from (Part XXX)

 The Holy Icons

One of the first things that strikes a non-Orthodox visitor to an Orthodox church is the promi-nent place assigned to the Holy Icons. The Iconostasis (Icon-screen) dividing the Altar from the rest of the church is covered with them, while others are placed in prominent places throughout the church building. Sometimes even the walls and ceiling are covered with them in fresco or mosaic form. The Orthodox faithful prostrate themselves before them, kiss them, and burn can-dles before them. They are censed by the Priest and carried in processions. Considering the ob-vious importance of the Holy Icons, then, questions may certainly be raised concerning them: What do these gestures and actions mean? What is the significance of these Icons? Are they not idols or the like, prohibited by the Old Testament?

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXX)

burning bush

Theotokos the Burning Bush. An icon from the workshop of the Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopedi.

Continued from (Part XXIX)

The Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.

In the theology and piety of the Orthodox Church, a special place of honor is given to the Mother of God — the Most-Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, who is reverenced by the Orthodox as being “more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious, beyond compare, than the Seraphim.” As Orthodox we style her as the most exalted among God’s creatures; but we do not regard her as some sort of goddess, the 4th Person of the Trinity, as some accuse us; nor do we render her the worship due God alone. Just as with the Holy Icons, the veneration due Mary is expressed in quite different words in the Greek writings of the Fathers than that due God.

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXIX)

Jesus Preaching Sermon on the Mount Gustave Dore

Continued from (Part XXVIII)

4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

The more profoundly we become aware of our sinfulness and spiritual imperfection, the less bearable to our reason and our conscience becomes the idea of being spiritually extinguished — the threat of losing our salvation — and within our soul are born hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. Just as in life the body periodically hungers for food and thirsts for drink, so in the spiritual life come moments when man yearns for spiritual food.

The good news of the gospel is the Truth that the Savior has come to earth, and His teaching — the righteousness of our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This good news of the Truth of Christ enlightens the soul. The Truth of Christ leads to faith in the true righteousness of our salvation. And the stronger the faith in this righteousness, the more fully its depths are re-vealed to the soul possessing it wholly, acting from faith to faith, urging it to lead a life compati-ble with this righteousness.-

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXVIII)

The Sermon On The Mount by Gustav Dore

The Sermon On The Mount by Gustav Dore

Continued from (Part XXVII)

The Foundations of Christian Morals.

The Sermon delivered by our Savior on the Mount was preceded by two significant meet-ings, one with His secret disciple, Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), and the other with the Samaritan Woman (John 4:4-42). In His conversation with Nicodemus, Christ spoke of being born again, born of the Spirit of God, and in Samaria He taught of God as Spirit and of the worship of the Father in spirit and truth.

Nicodemus had not known of spiritual birth before his meeting with the Lord. What in-terested him was the same question that troubled many other men: was this Teacher and Miracle-Worker an ordinary prophet, or was He the Christ, the promised Messiah? His desire to find the answer to this question is evident in the words with which he addressed Christ: Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him (John 3:2).

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXVII)

Moses

Continued from (Part XXVI)

The Ten Commandments.

After the Exodus from Egyptian slavery (Ex. 14), the Children of Israel encamped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Moses went up onto the mountain and there received from God two tablets of stone, upon which were written by God’s hand the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20,31). The text of these commandments (The Decalogue) is as follows:

1. “I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me (Ex. 20:2-3).

2. “You shall not make for yourselves a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them (20:4-5).

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXVI)

chrsokentito Exapterygo Ieras Monis Osiou Grigoriou

Continued from (Part XXV)

Concerning one Baptism for the Remission of Sins.

Man becomes a child of the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Baptism is the door to Christianity, the beginning of life in God. Baptism restores the image of God in man and bestows the saving power of Christ’s redemptive feat on him. Through Baptism the Christian receives access to all the Holy Sacraments and acts of grace of the Church, which lead him to deification.

Baptism is called the second birth because in it a man dies to his sinful life and is reborn into a new, spiritual, holy life, in which he puts on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). Through Baptism men are reconciled to God, cleansed from the impurities of sinful acts by the Divine Spirit, and become fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19), and children of God (John 1:12).

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXV)

Fresco from the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi (Mount Athos)

Fresco from the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi (Mount Athos)

Continued from (Part XXIV)

Concerning the Son of God — the Savior of the World.

The teaching of faith in the Son of God — the Savior of the World — is to be found in the third to seventh articles of the Creed.

For the salvation of mankind was accomplished the great mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16), the mystery of His [God’s] will (Eph. 1:9). The Only-begotten Son (John 1:18) of God, descended from Heaven, was made incarnate, was born of the Virgin Mary in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), and was made flesh (John 1:14). He took a human body without its sin, and a human soul, and became true Man without ceasing to be True God (Rom. 9:5).

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXIV)

pantocrator

Continued from (Part XXIII)

6. Orthodox Dogmas and Doctrines.

Holy Tradition.

One of the distinctive characteristics of the Holy Orthodox Church is its changelessness, its loyalty to the past, its sense of living continuity with the ancient Church. This idea of living continuity may be summed up in one word: Tradition. As St. John of Damascus says, “We do not change the everlasting boundaries which our fathers have set, but we keep the Tradition, just as we received it” [On the Holy Icons, II, 12]. To an Orthodox Christian, Tradition means the Holy Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons, etc. In essence, it means the whole system of doctrine, ecclesiastical government, worship and art which Orthodoxy has arti-culated over the ages [Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, p.204].

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXIII)

Megaloschema

Continued from (Part XXII)

The Monastic Tonsure.

The Monastic Grades.

When one desiring the monastic life enters a monastery, he normally passes through three steps or stages: 1) Probationer (Novice — including Riasaphor), 2) Monk of the Lesser Schema (Cross-bearer or Stavrophore), and 3) Monk of the Great Schema (Russian — Skhimnik). The Probationer who enters a monastery desires to do so in order to acquit himself worthily in the angelic state, so called because Monks renounce all wordly things, do not marry, do not acquire and hold property, and live as do the Angels in Heaven, glorifying God night and day and striving to do His Will in all things.

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XXII)

The Torment of Saint Anthony. painting of Michelangelo c. 1487-­88

The Torment of Saint Anthony. painting of Michelangelo c. 1487-­88

Continued from (Part XXI)

5. Orthodox Monasticism.

It is generally accepted that monasticism began in Egypt towards the end of the Third Century, though its origins may have been older. Indeed, some form of monasticism may have existed almost from the birth of the Church. As the word monastic implies (in Greek monos — alone), the Monk was one who went into the desert to live alone with God. (Such were also called hermits (or anchorites), which means solitaries.) The first recorded hermitic Orthodox Christian literature was St. Paul of Thebes († 341) who lived over sixty years in a cave in the Egyptian desert. But the greatest of these hermits, often called the Father of Monasticism, was St. Anthony the Great († 356). Yet, even in the life of this father of monasticism, the desert solitude was gradually modified by the appearance of disciples. These men wished to pursue the monastic life under the guidance of one who was already experienced. A soldier marching into battle would much rather be commanded by an experienced officer than an inexperienced one, no matter how educated the latter may be. Nor, if he himself is inexperienced, would he wish to enter the battle alone.

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XΧI)

Fresco from the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopaidi

Fresco from the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopaidi

Continued from (Part XX)

The Feast of Feasts-The Holy Pascha of the Lord.

On Saturday, the day after the crucifixion of the Lord, His disciples and followers were filled with gloom, for they had seen their Lord and Master die, crucified on a cross. As Holy Scripture tells us, there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus (Luke 23:50-52). Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away His body. [He and] Nicodemus also, who had at first come to Him by night…took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen clothes…as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there (John 19:38-42). The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how His body was laid; then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:55-56).

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XΧ)

Palm Sunday

Fresco from the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopedi

Continued from (Part XIX)

Great Feasts of the Paschal Cycle.

The Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem (Sunday Before Pascha).

On the Sunday before Pascha, the Holy Church celebrates the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem. Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 12:1). While tarrying there, in the house of Lazarus, many of those who had accompanied Him on the way from Jericho managed to reach Jerusalem and spread the tidings that Christ the Savior was coming there for the Feast of the Passover, and had stopped for a while in Bethany. Hearing this news, Christ’s enemies, the scribes and Pharisees came to Bethany, not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, Whom He had raised from the dead (John 12:9).

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XΙΧ)

TRANSFIGURATION

Continued from (Part XVIII)

The Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Aug. 6).

At one point in His earthly ministry, Our Lord asked His disciples, Who do men say that the Son of man is (Matt. 16:13)? The disciples gave various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. Then He said to them, But who do you say that I am (Matt. 16:15)? Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Shortly after this confession of faith, Jesus went up a high mountain (according to Church Tradition, Mt. Tabor) to pray, taking with Him Peter, James and John. And as He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with Him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XVIII)

Annunciation

Continued from (Part XVII)

The Holy Supper.

Christmas customs among the Orthodox people are simple, yet beautiful and rich with meaning. Among these customs is the Holy Supper which is served on Christmas Eve. We must emphasize, however, that the traditions which follow are not necessarily followed in every detail by every family that serves the Holy Supper, for Orthodoxy is rich in its diversity.

Traditionally, the meal is served on Christmas Eve at the time of the appearance of the first evening star. This, of course, serves to remind us of the Star of Bethlehem which shone in the East to the Magi coming to worship the Savior. The table itself is covered with straw and linen, which reminds us of the manger in which Christ lay and the linen cloths with which He was wrapped. A lit candle is placed on the table, symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem and the Light of Christ shining out in the darkness and despair of the world.

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XVII)

saints constantine and helena

Continued from (Part XVI)

4. Feasts of the Orthodox Church.

The Twelve Great Feasts.

The Nativity of the Most-Holy Theotokos (Sept. 8)

The first Great Feast to fall in the Church Year is the Nativity of the Most-Holy Theoto-kos. It is entirely fitting that at the beginning of the new religious year all Orthodox Christians should come before the highest example of human holiness that the Orthodox Church holds pre-cious and venerates — that of Mary, the Theotokos and Mother of God. This day is seen as one of universal joy; for on this day — the boundary of the Old and New Covenants — was born the Most-Blessed Virgin, pre-arranged from the ages by Divine Providence to serve the mystical In-carnation of God the Word.

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XVI)

Resurection of Christ

Continued from (Part XV)

Great Lent and Pascha

The Feast of Feasts the Holy Pascha the Resurrection of the Lord-is the climax of the Church’s liturgical year and is also the most glorious, most joyful and bright festival of the Christian Church. On it Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ arose as victor over death, destroying the power of death over man once and for all and annulling the curse pronounced upon man in Paradise. But, before the bright joy of Pascha, the Church has ordained a lengthy period of repentance and spiritual searching a period of preparation, so to speak the 40-day Great Lent.

The Forty Days of Great Lent commemorates Israel’s forty years of wandering in the Wilderness the forty years of painful struggle as Israel longed for and then received entrance into the Promised Land (Ex. 16:35) Moses remained fasting on Mt. Sinai for forty days (Ex. 34:28) and the Prophet Elijah fasted for forty days as he journeyed to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8). Great Lent also recalls the forty days the Lord spent in the Wilderness after His Baptism, when He contended with Satan, the Temptor.

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“These Truths We Hold” (Part XV)

 Interior of the Church of St. John the Evangelist on the Ishna, near Rostov Yaroslavsky. Painting of Vasili Vasilyevich Vereshchagin 1888

Interior of the Church of St. John the Evangelist on the Ishna, near Rostov Yaroslavsky. Painting of Vasili Vasilyevich Vereshchagin 1888

Continued from (Part XIV)

Concerning Bows and the Sign of the Cross.

Orthodox worship is characterized by a complete utilization of the senses — sight, smell, hearing, speech and touch. We see the candles, Icons, frescoes, etc., we hear the sounds of singing and reading, at times lifting up our own voices, and we smell the characteristic odor of the incense. The whole of the human person is involved in worship, and important among the senses is the actual deportment of the human body. The attitude of the Orthodox Believer to worship is reverential, and certain types of bodily movements are utilized to reinforce this sense of reverential piety — we stand during the services, we make bows and prostrations, and with great frequency, we make the Sign of the Cross. Accordingly, there are several types of Bows, depending on the solemnity of the moment.

Prostration (Great Metanoia — Great Poklon).

Here the worshipper prostrates the whole body, throwing the weight forwards onto the hands and touching the ground with the forehead.

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