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From the bio of St. Dionysius the Aeropagite, whose feast day we celebrate today:

During the lifetime of the Mother of God, Saint Dionysius had journeyed from Athens to Jerusalem to meet Her. He wrote to his teacher the Apostle Paul: “I witness by God, that besides the very God Himself, there is nothing else filled with such divine power and grace. No one can fully comprehend what I saw. I confess before God: when I was with John, who shone among the Apostles like the sun in the sky, when I was brought before the countenance of the Most Holy Virgin, I experienced an inexpressible sensation. Before me gleamed a sort of divine radiance which transfixed my spirit. I perceived the fragrance of indescribable aromas and was filled with such delight that my very body became faint, and my spirit could hardly endure these signs and marks of eternal majesty and heavenly power. The grace from her overwhelmed my heart and shook my very spirit. If I did not have in mind your instruction, I should have mistaken Her for the very God. It is impossible to stand before greater blessedness than this which I beheld.”

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Elias (Miniates), Bishop of Kerniki and Kalibryta, was born to pious Orthodox parents in the city of Lixouri on the Greek island of Kephallonia at the end of the 17th century (1660).  Naturally intelligent but with little opportunity for learning on the Venetian-occupied island, in 1679 the young Elias was sent to study at the renowned Flanginian School in Venice where he excelled in theology, philosophy, and philology.  His rapid progress and noted eloquence soon led to his being appointed one of the school’s lecturers, while his zeal for the faith led him to the ambo of the local church as a preacher. 

This combination of teaching and preaching would characterize the whole of his life’s work.  Hearing the cry of his oppressed homeland for teachers, he would leave Venice to preach and teach in his native Kephallonia, before moving on to do the same in Kerkyra, Zakynthos, and Constantinople.  With his renown spreading, he was selected to become Bishop of Christopolis, but he ignored this invitation until the vacant see was eventually filled by another.  He would, however, be unable to avoid his episcopal calling.  In 1711, he was again elected bishop, this time of Kerniki and Kalybrita.  He would serve as bishop for only three years, reposing in the Lord at Patras in 1714, the office having taken a significant toll on his health.  With few capable preachers during the years of the Turkish occupation, it was Elias Miniates’ homilies read aloud in churches which catechized the people. Thus, he is remembered as a true enlightener of the Greek people during the darkness of Turkish and Venetian occupation. 

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4th Sunday of Luke:  On the great necessary and benefit of the preaching of the Gospel Word[1]

Bishop Elias (Miniates) of Keriniki and Kalabryta, +1714

 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside…And some fell among thorns…But others fell on good ground…”[2]

How unfortunate is the farmer spoken of in the parable of today’s Holy Gospel!  How vain his labour!  How much seed!  How little fruit!  He sows with an eager heart, with open hands, with good hope, but one portion of the seed falls on the pathway and is trampled by travellers or is eaten by the birds, another portion falls on rock and dries up because it lacks moisture, and another falls among thorns and, being crowded, is choked out.  The smallest portion, however, falls on good ground and this alone takes root, this alone sprouts, this alone bears fruit.

The allegory of the parable is obvious.  The farmer is the preacher and teacher of the Holy Gospel.  The seed is the word of God which is sown liberally within the Holy Church of God, but one portion falls as if on a pathway, on some inattentive Christians, and is thus ignored and scattered.  Another portion falls as if on stone, on some who are hard-hearted, and thus it does not take root and is of no effect.  Another as if among thorns, on some minds full of worldly care, and thus does not bear fruit.  The smallest portion, however, falls as if on good ground, on some pious souls who hear it with joy and guard it carefully, and here alone it bears the manifold fruit of salvation.  Up to this point the farmer’s loss has been great, and the seeds’ fortune has not been good.  Indeed, I am sorrowful over the loss of seed, and I sympathize with the farmer in his plight, but I am incomparably more sorrowful, I sigh from the depths of my soul and weep inconsolably because in these unhappy times there is no farmer to be found and seed is entirely lacking, in other words, there is no preacher and teacher of the Gospel, and the word of God has entirely vanished.  The mystical field of Christ’s Church therefore lays entirely fallow for it has neither been worked, nor has seed been sown in it.  There where choice wheat, the fruit of righteousness, once grew–in sometimes greater, sometimes lesser quantity–now nothing sprouts but thorns, caltrops, weeds, and bare branches, all tinder and fuel for the eternal fire of Hell.  Thus, today, moved by today’s parable, I want to show you, first, how necessary and beneficial the farmer who sows and the seed which is sown – that is to say, the preacher and teacher of the Gospel, and the preaching of the Gospel, namely the word of God, teaching – are to the Church of Christ; and second, what stifles and impedes the bringing forth of the fruit of salvation.  Here, then, speaking from up here in this pulpit to this God-protected people, I beseech the Holy Spirit for the first time to do what is needed so that the seed of today’s Gospel preaching which I desire to sow falls not on the pathway, not on stone, not amongst thorns, but on good ground that it might bear spiritual fruit a hundred-fold.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”[3]

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The days came when our Lord Jesus would leave the earth and ascend into heaven, and there on the Mount of Olives he gave them a command with words such as these:  ‘My disciples, I have fulfilled the will of the Father who sent me; now I must go away and leave you.  But I leave you as successors of my authority, apostles of my teaching, and inheritors of my Spirit.  And this is the work that I command you to do: call the whole of the human race back to my faith.  Do you see this great world, stretching from East to West, from North to South?  This is the royal throne of the ruler of the world.  There impiety and idolatry reigns; there three great enemies are found, the unbridled hard-heartedness of the Jews, the prying wisdom of the Greeks, and the fearful power of the Romans.  You must overcome the power of the Romans, confound the wisdom of the Greeks, and soften the hard-heartedness of the Jews; you must change idolatry and impiety into piety and the knowledge of God; you must wage war against the whole world and establish the Kingdom of God in place of the kingdom of the World.’ “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[4]  A difficult undertaking; for twelve poor and contemptible apostles to overcome the whole world.  And Christ, who sent them out to start such a great war, what weapons did he give them?  God sent Jesus of Navi together with the whole Israelite nation into battle with Jericho, telling him this:  ‘You see that great city?  You see those high walls?  I want you to raze those walls down to the ground and to enter into that city as victor, but I don’t want you to take up arms of any sort; no sword, no spear, no bow and arrow, not any machine of war.  This alone will suffice:  the priests should carry the Ark upon their shoulders and circle around the fortification, and sound the trumpets.  And I tell you that at the sounding of the trumpets the walls will fall and the city will be in your hands.’  This is how it is written, and this is how it happened: “[T]he priests blew the trumpets. And it happened…the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.”[5]

And Christ gave the same command to the Apostles.  ‘I send you out,’ he says, ‘to overcome the entire world, to bring all creation into subjection, to lead the nations to Orthodoxy, to make all men Christians, but I don’t want you to take up arms of any sort.  And not only do I want to you leave behind sword and spear, but also purse and staff.  It is enough for you to take up the ark of sanctification, to take up my Gospel, and to circle the whole earth; to make your mouths like trumpets, and preach everywhere: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”[6]  I tell you, by the preaching of the Gospel alone the whole world will fall and all men will return to my faith.’  Thus spoke Christ, and thus it occurred.  Through the preaching of the Gospel, undertaken initially by the Apostles, the high walls of Jericho fell – namely, the temples of the Pagan nations, and the synagogues of the Jews.  Idolatry and impiety fell.  The new Church was erected and the new faith of the Christians shone forth.  And through the preaching of the Gospel undertaken by the Apostle’s successors – the bishops, the priests, the trumpets of the Holy Spirit – the Church was made firm and the faith was extended to all the ends of the earth:  “Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.”[7] The lone tool which God used to extract impiety from the world and sow the knowledge of God therein was the preaching of the Gospel, the word of God, teaching.  “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”  This is how necessary and how beneficial the preaching of the Gospel is to the Church of Christ.

But how, I wonder, does it possess such impressive power?  All-powerful is the irresistible Word, who is begotten eternally of the all-knowing mind of co-eternal Father, and who is thus the wisdom and power of the Father, as Paul says, through whom he made the ages and created everything, the heavens and the earth, visible and invisible: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of his mouth.”[8]  This says David, and John says, “All things were made through Him.”[9]  Similarly all-powerful is the oral divine word, which is the expressed character of that hypostasis and has all the power of the Holy Spirit so as to be able to perform most-extraordinary miracles.  The former in creation, as nature witnessed; the latter in the recreation, which grace effected.  God willed to show the infinite power of this divine word to the Prophet Ezekiel, speaking such words as these:  ‘Prophet, go out onto the plain and you will see that it is full of the bones of the dead: “The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the plain; and it was full of bones.”[10]  And so that you might understand the power of the divine word, preach, teach, and you will see those dry bones clothed in flesh, receive spirit, and become living men: “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!”[11]  The prophet preached the word and – O, what wonder! – those insensible, dead bones lying in dirt became sensible and received life, and were resurrected: “So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.”[12]  This tells us that the word God is life, soul, and resurrection to those hear it, as Christ tells John saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.”[13] And the Blessed Paul adds the reason for this saying that the word of God is life and power: “For the word of God is living and powerful.”[14]

Is one dead on account of impiety or sin?  What is able to raise him up?  The word of God, which is life.  Is one found in delusion or the darkness of heresy, or treading the path of an evil life?  What is able to enlighten him, or bring him back to the path of salvation?  The word of God, which is light and truth.  Is one ailing in soul?  The word of God will cure him.  Is one hard of heart?  The word of God will soften him.  Is he an unrepentant sinner?  The word of God will draw him toward repentance.  “For the word of God is living and powerful.”  Christians within the Church ought to be fed from above, like the Jews were in the desert. The Jew’s food was manna; the Christians food is the word of God.  Gregory the Theologian says, “…the word of God be that bread of angels, wherewith souls are fed who are a hungered for God.”[15]  If there had been no manna in the desert, what would have become of the lowly Jews?  And if the word of God is wanting in the Church, what will become of the lowly Christians?  Christians need to know what the articles of the faith and the commandments of God are; what the mysteries of the Church, what the seven deadly sins are; what the virtues of the Christian life are; what the Christian is obliged to do.  What if there is nothing and no one to explain these to them?  “And how shall they hear without a preacher?”[16]  Divine anger can inflict nothing worse than this kind of famine.  Christians, God frightened the Jews by the mouth of the Prophet who said, ‘O hard-hearted people of Israel, for your sins and unrighteousness I will visit you with a famine.  You will not want for bread, however, but for the word of God, in other words you will starve; hunger for; you will desire the word of God and will not heart it.’  “I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread…but of hearing the words of the Lord.”[17]  The word of God is not heard in the Church; this heavenly manna, this bread of angels, “wherewith souls are fed who are a hungered for God,” is nowhere to be found; the seed of evangelical preaching has been lost.  This is a famine which causes the death of souls, not bodies, and the death of the soul is Hell.  This is a punishment which God sends for sins.  It is a clear sign of divine anger that the Gospel is not preached among the Orthodox.  What a loss of souls!  What scorn poured out on the Church!  What sorrow and loss for Christ!  What joy and gain for the devil!

There is truly nothing the devil takes greater care to do than to excise the preaching of the Gospel from the Church of Christ and to cast out teachers and preachers of the Gospel wherever they are found.   And why?  Understand this.  Great wars were fought, and much blood was shed between the Macedonians and the Athenians, such that a deadly animosity developed between the two peoples.  Phillip, the king of the Macedonians, as brave as he was artful in negotiations, sent a delegation to the Athenians who were afflicted on account of all the bloodshed and the money they had spent, writing to them such things as these:  ‘Athenian men, if you wish the war to end and for there to be peace between us, this is what I would have you do:  cast all the rhetors out of your city.  It is they with their sophisticated manipulation of words who incite the people to take up arms, who sow scandal, who ignite war, who give rise to all the evils associated with war.’  The Athenians were deceived by this and they immediately voted that all the rhetors should be exiled from Athens.  Notable amongst these were Phocion and Demosthenes, who addressed this oration to the people:  ‘Athenian men, you are disposed to do the will of Phillip, and we are ready to obey your order.  We will leave despite the love we bear for our homeland, but first we desire to tell you this fable: a wolf sent a delegation to the sheep, telling them that if they wanted peace they should kick all the dogs that bark and make a fuss out of the sheepfold.  The sheep accepted the wolf’s suggestion and unanimously decided to cast them out.  Then one of the dogs – the oldest one – said, ‘Deceived sheep, you have not grasped the reason the wolf wants you to expel us.  He is not trying to establish peace; rather, he wants you to be left without guards so that when the time is right he can come by night, snatch you up, and eat you one by one.’   The sheep considered these words carefully and in the end decided to keep the dogs in the sheepfold.’  Athenian men, Phillip’s aim is not to make peace with you.  It is to leave you without guardians, without us rhetors who speak, who declaim, who cry out, who summon the leaders to the assembly, who call the people to arms, who guard the city from his attacks, so that he will have the opportunity to come along when he so desires and, finding you unprepared, place you under the yoke of slavery.’  The Athenians considered Demosthenes’ words and kept the rhetors in the city.  This is how it is, Christians.

The Church of Christ is the mystical sheepfold; Christians are rational sheep; the bishops are the shepherds of the sheep; the devil is the wolf, or better the lion, as the Blessed Peter says, who circles the sheepfold of Christ and seeks to devour Christ’s sheep:  “…your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”[18]  And the dogs, the guardians of the holy sheepfold, these are the teachers and preachers of the Gospel who preach, who cry out, who rouse the shepherds, repel the wolf, and guard the sheep.  Saint Basil the Great says that the rabbit does not fear thunder as much as the devil fears the preaching of the Gospel.  When he hears the word of God preached, he trembles, runs far away, he vanishes.  Now, what has the devil’s mischief done?  He tries in every way to expel the dogs from the sheepfold, the holy rhetors from the holy city, the teachers from the Church, so that the word of God is in no way heard.  To what end?  Give me a sheepfold without guard dogs, and as smart and as careful as the shepherd might be, the wolf will yet come in the dark of the night, secretly, enter the sheepfold without the shepherd hearing and snatch up and devour the sheep.  Give me a church, a city, a diocese without teachers and preachers, and as holy and righteous as the pastor might be, the devil, finding it unguarded and not hearing the word, will yet enter, snatch up, and devour the rational sheep.  Paul says that the Holy Spirit set Shepherds and Teachers over the Church for this very reason: the Shepherds are to govern the rational sheep with the rod of uprightness, namely, spiritual authority, while the Teachers are to protect the rational sheep from the soul-destroying wolf by word and teaching.  From all this do you see just how necessary teachers and preachers of the Gospel are to Christ’s Church?  How necessary the word of God is for our salvation?  It is as necessary as bread is to this life: “…the word of God be that bread of angels, wherewith souls are fed who are a hungered for God.”

O only-begotten Son and Word of God, you who came down from the bosom of the Father on account of your incomparable goodness, and deigned to become man in order to gather together that mystical flock which is your holy Church; you who shed your blood to ransom your rational sheep, look over your flock from the heavens, visit your sheep, do not leave them without guardians, preachers and teachers of your Gospel who protect them from the snares of the soul-destroying wolf. You who rained down manna in the desert to feed your people Israel, rain down the heavenly bread of divine teaching upon your Church to feed the souls of the Orthodox faithful.  Let your Holy Spirit illumine our minds, let it fill our hearts, let it instruct our tongues, that the word of God might always be heard and never be absent from among us.  Heavenly sower,  ever sow this divine seed amidst the commonwealth of the Orthodox, and let it fall upon love so that it might bear much good fruit, to the glory of your divine name, and to the salvation of our souls.

ce9cce97ce9dce99ce91cea4ce97cf82Part Two 

The word of God is not only that which is preached by teachers from the pulpit – which we never, or at least infrequently hear.  The word of God is also the Holy Gospel, the other holy writings, and the holy services which the priests read or sing, and which we ought to hear every Sunday and feast day appointed by the Church.  Now, this divine word is like that seed in today’s parable – in fact, it is not like that seed, for a portion of the seed in that parable fell on good ground, but of this seed all, all falls as if on a pathway, on rock, or amongst thorns and bears no fruit at all.  And this is the reason.  Some Christians come to the church and hear the word of God; others do not come, and do not hear it.  Of those who come, half are in the church with their body, but God knows where they are with their mind; they lack attentiveness and piety.  Now when the Holy Gospel, the epistles, and other similar things are read, it is as if the word of God falls on a pathway and the passers-by and the birds – which are vain thoughts – scatter it.  They come to church without contrition, without compunction and here the Gospel falls as if on rock, on a heart firm in its ways, and it puts down no roots and is dried up.  They come to church and do not offer even one true prayer; they do not quiet their mind or lift it up to God.  Raise their mind to God?  What mind?  It is full, burdened, weighed down, by all the troubles and cares of the world.  Here we find many stifling thorns; here the word of God is choked out; here nothing good comes.  The great Cyril says, “He whose mind is troubled and anxious has no thought of good things, nor can it hold the grace of God.”[19]  If the word of God is to bear fruit and benefit those who come to church, they must come with prayer and devotion, with contrition and compunction, with meekness and attentiveness.  Others, however, do not come to the church at all.  In these men two things are witnessed; first, the violation of the third commandment:  “You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you…whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.”[20]  Second, the ruination of one’s labour.  God did not rain down manna on the seventh day.  Isaiah says, “[T]hey spin a spider’s web…and their web shall not become a garment.”[21]

[1] From Ηλία Μηνιάτη, Διδαχαί εις την Αγίαν και Μεγάλην Τεσσαρακοστήν, και εις άλλας Κυριακάς του Ενιαυτού, και Επισήμους Εορτάς (Ekdotikos Oikos Bas. Rigopoulou, Thessaloniki, 1991), pp.301-310.  Trans. Rev Dr John Palmer

[2] Luke 8: 5-8.

[3] Matthew 13: 9.

[4] Matthew 28:19.

[5] Joshua 6:20.

[6] Mark 16:15.

[7] Psalm 18:4.

[8] Psalm 32:6.

[9] John 1:3.

[10] Ezekiel 37:1.

[11] Ezekiel 37:4.

[12] Ezekiel 37:10.

[13] John 5:25.

[14] Hebrews 4:12.

[15] Oration Forty-Three, [36].

[16] Romans 10:14.

[17] Amos 8:11.

[18] 1 Peter 5:8.

[19] This line is not easily located in St Cyril’s writings, though it is contained in a number of Catenae with an attribution to Cyril of Jerusalem.

[20] Exodus 31:14.

[21] Isaiah 59:5-6.

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While working on these icons of St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil and St. Gregory I’ve been listening to these and similar podcasts/ homilies. I thought you might enjoy a listen as well.

Part One: Join Illumined Heart co-host Kevin Allen on his pilgrimage to Saint Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, California to talk with its Abbot Fr. Gerasim and Fr. Seraphim Rose legacy-keeper and biographer Monk Damascene. September 2nd [2007] marks the 25th anniversary of the repose of Fr. Seraphim Rose. In part 1 of this 3 part series, Kevin is in the cell constructed by Fr. Seraphim and now occupied by Monk Damascene where he talks with the monk about his spiritual father. For more information about the books published and distributed by the monastery, visit their website.

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Part Two: Enter once again into the rustic cell of Fr. Seraphim Rose with Kevin Allen as he talks with Fr. Damascene, the biographer and spiritual child of Fr. Seraphim. This is part 2 of a 3 part series and provides a unique glimpse into the life of a man who many say will someday be venerated as a Saint.

Part Three: In the conclusion of our 3 part series commemorating the 25th anniversary of the repose of Fr Seraphim (Rose), Kevin Allen is seated on a wooden bench overlooking a panoranmic view of Mt. Yolla Bolly with the Abbot of St. Herman of Alaska Monastery, Fr. Gerasim. Listen for valuable lessons (as well as birds chirping!) on the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting from a spiritual child of this venerated American monk and writer.

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(Source) Father George Calciu (1925-2006) was one of the great confessors of Christianity in the twentieth century. Having survived the diabolic prison experiments of Communist Romania, Fr. George went on to become an apostle to spiritual seekers in Romania and, eventually, throughout the world. He was able to speak authoritatively of God’s love and forgiveness because of his own experience of God’s mercy. As a priest in America, Fr. George maintained a strict ascetic life of fasting and prayer, while at the same time pastoring his flock as a joyful and loving father.

“When you were tortured, after one or two hours of suffering, the pain would not be so strong. But after denying God and knowing yourself to be a blasphemer – that was the pain that lasted … We forgive the tortures. But it is a very difficult thing to forgive ourselves.”

But afterward, when at last alone, Fr. George would feel tears of repentance, and that would bring healing. Being able to turn to God at night and repeat after the torture and failures of the day was very consoling. Fr. George said, “You knew very well that the next day you would again say something against God. But, a few moments in the night, when you started to cry and to pray to God to forgive you and help you, were very good.” (Father George Calciu: Interviews, Homilies and Talks, p. 14)

While I don’t know if any of us will ever suffer anything in comparison to what Fr. George suffered but the principle behind this excerpt is so spiritually pertinent to all of us. The spiritual life, our everyday lives are about repentance, about crying out to God, seeking solace in Him alone, admitting our guilt and asking for strength.

May God give us such spiritual maturity as to continually rise up when we fall, admit when we’re wrong, and shed tears to cleanse our blackened hearts! Through the prayers of Fr. George and all the Romanian new martyrs who suffered under the godless Communist yoke!

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The “having fallen asleep” Mother of God was a wonderful gift a friend brought us from Jerusalem

Oikos for the Dormition:

Set a rampart about my mind, O my Saviour, for I make bold to sing the praises of Thy most-pure Mother, the rampart of the world. Establish me firmly within the fortress of my words and make me strong within the defenses of my thoughts: for Thou dost promise to fulfill the petitions of those that entreat Thee with faith. Endue me with a tongue and ready speech, and with thoughts that are without shame; for every gift of enlightenment is sent down from Thee, O guiding Light, Who dwelt within her every-virgin womb.

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Fr John summarizing St. Theodore Studite’s encomium on the Dormition of the Theotokos

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Elder Thaddeus’ words in this video are meaningful and instructive, but I also love just watching his mannerisms and seeing his small smile. Holiness seems to emanate from him.

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elder-leonid-of-optinaDisciple: Is mental prayer granted to everyone?

Elder Leonid: Whomever the Lord visits with grievous trial, with sorrow or with the deprivation of a beloved neighbour: such a person will involuntarily pray with his whole heat, with all his thoughts and with all his mind. Consequently the wellspring of prayer is in everyone; but it is tapped either by gradually delving deeper into oneself in accordance with the teachings of the Fathers, or instantaneously, by God’s drill.

 

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