Crying Stones

Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, complete with cheering crowds and branches of palm, was upsetting to the religious authorities of the time. The salutation of “Hosanna to the Son of David,” was a direct reference to His messiahship – a claim of kingship that carried political overtones. The warning of the authorities (Luke 19:39) is clear, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” Christ’s response is worth noting:  “I tell you that if they were to keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” Why would the stones cry out?

St. Paul offers this:

…the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Ro. 8:21-22).

Creation shouts in anticipation of its liberty. The entrance of Christ into Jerusalem – His triumphant entry – is the arrival of creation’s liberty (and our own). Had the people turned away and refused to cheer Christ’s arrival, creation itself would have taken up the chorus.

The arrival of our liberty is an aspect or understanding of Christ’s Passion that often goes unmentioned. The Cross has been so narrowed in its treatment by many Christians that the true fullness of the gospel remains unspoken. St. Paul reminds us that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Christ Himself, quoting Isaiah, says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Lk. 4:18). That liberty from the bondage of death, decay and corruption is the freedom given in Christ’s death and resurrection. So much more than a forensic transaction, Christ’s victory is cosmic in its scope, bringing even the created order into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.”

For the individual believer, the events of Holy Week are rarely (if ever) associated with freedom. The bondage of creation and its subsequent liberty do not fit well within schemes of Divine justice and atonement. It is one of many New Testament realities that is frequently overlooked in its failure to conform to dogmatic requirements.

It is not overlooked in the gospels. Met. Kallistos Ware offers these observations:

…[The] created order in its entirety participated in the Savior’s Passion: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the whole cosmos shuddered (Matt. 27:51). In the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian, ‘humans were silent, so the stones cried out’. As the old English poem The Dream of the Rood expresses it, ‘All creation wept.’ This all embracing participation in the death of God incarnate is memorably expressed in the Praises or Enkomia sung in the evening of Good Friday or early in the morning on Holy Saturday:

‘Come, and with the whole creation let us offer a funeral hymn to the Creator.’The whole earth quaked with fear, O lord, and the Daystar hid its rays, when Thy great light was hidden in the earth.’ The sun and moon grew dark together, O Savior, like faithful servants clothed in black robes of mourning.’ ‘O hills and valleys’, exclaims the Holy Virgin, ‘the multitude of mankind and all creation, weep and lament with me, the Mother of God.’

Most remarkably of all in what is truly an amazing statement, it is affirmed: ‘the whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Lord, that Thou holdest all in unity.’ …Do we allow properly for the fact that our Savior came to redeem, not only the human race, but the fullness of creation? Do we keep constantly in mind that we are not saved from but with the world?

The Incarnation of Christ and the whole of His work – suffering, death, burial, descent among the dead, resurrection, ascension – serve the same singular purpose – to deliver all of creation (including humanity) from its bonds and establish it in the freedom for which it was created – manifest in Christ’s own resurrection. Words such as “justification,” “sanctification,” and the like, are all synonyms for the singular saving work of Christ.

If the children hold their peace in this matter, the stones themselves will cry out.

The narrowing of the Cross by so many is a tragic limitation of the gospel. More tragic, it seems to me, is the “yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1) so easily embraced by Christians. Living in the liberty of the Spirit is the most difficult discipline of the Christian life – one which is quickly abandoned for religious imitations.

The liberty of the Spirit is not an existence which has no rules, no tradition or commandments: liberty is not chaos. However, how you have rules, tradition and commandments is another matter. The rules by which we live as Christians can easily become the end rather than the means of our existence. The children of Israel left the slavery of Egypt but were all too willing to become slaves within the wilderness.

Let is “stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has set us free!” and shout with the stones, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!”


  1. The honorable priest Fr. Stephen states:”The narrowing of the Cross by so many is a tragic limitation of the gospel. More tragic, it seems to me, is the “yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1) so easily embraced by Christians. Living in the liberty of the Spirit is the
    most difficult discipline of the Christian life – one which is quickly
    abandoned for religious imitations….how you have rules, tradition and commandments is another matter. ”
    Precisely two chapters previosly,in Galatians 3:1 we have an example of Apostle Paul irately asking, “You foolish Galatians,who has bewitched (baskaino) you?” Good question, Aristotle had asked about it hundreds of years before, and it was a part of the dialogue of Greek culture, which Apostle Paul was educated in.
    In gist, baskaino (bewitched or enticed) indicates falling under the evil power of a witch or evil potency. The answer to this witchcraft or deminization was discovered by Eastern Church fathers in Mark 10:47: “Iesou eleeson me” (Jesus have mercy on me) and in the Western Rite, “Christe eleison”. Deeply immersed in the love of Jesus Christ for the Father (the Holy Spirit) the “Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”was mined from scripture. The prayer is not selfish in any sense, for Jesus assures us , “I will be with you unto ages of ages. ” Calling out for Jesus with the Jesus prayer defeats baskaino for the entire Universe.

  2. Excellent stuff again Father!

    The cosmic nature of Christ’s salvific work is often overlooked in Western Protestant traditions.The salvation of the all the world is the ultimate affirmation of the continuing goodness of the created order. Not giving proper space to the cosmic dimension of salvation has led to all sorts of wierd and, ultimately, anti-scriptural eschatologies – like the rapture. As if we are to escape creation whilst the world is destroyed. Also the basic dualism that the Western church in the middle ages embraced. Salvation is going to heaven when you die, as opposed to resurrection into the new creation.

    And, as you mention, Western theories of atonement cannot account for cosmic salvation. It all becomes an individual thing – it’s all about “me and my salvation”. The world could go to hell and a hand basket. Even those Protestant traditions that want to affirm, on face value, the new creation, they haven’t let the meaning of this work on their faith.

    You are quite right, Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem is an affront to the powers that be. He is King. Caesar, Caiaphas, the President of the USA and whoever else are not the true rulers of the world. How do we live in the present that reflects Christ’s Lordship over creation? Should we stand for the constant destruction of creation simply for our material satisfaction? As St Paul says “For earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the Sons of God”. Humanity was created to be stewards of the earth and the earth is now crying out for us to get it right again! The reality Christ’s Kingship has all sorts of implications for how we treat each other and creation itself that I’m not sure our culture, even (perhaps especially) the evangelical sub-culture has allowed to us to think about.

  3. Father bless. From what source is the quote from Met. Kallistos Ware found? Simply curious. Thank you.

  4. jpschock,
    It’s from a small work, The Beginning of the Day, that I think was a special printing. I was given a copy by him when I was on pilgrimage with him in the holy Land. I’m not sure if it’s been published for sale.

  5. Simmmo,

    Though it is a gross generalization, I am seeing more and more that one big distinction between western and eastern Christianity is that the west focuses heavily on the individual aspect of our life in Christ and the east equally concentrated on the corporate life.

    Both are essential – and not exclusive of or independent from the other. Putting the other differences aside for the moment, they both have something to offer to the other, but often it seems that pride and the either/or mindset keeps them drinking at each other’s fountain. You can find exceptions but they are just that in fact.

  6. Drewster,
    On the gross generalization (and not to be too proud in the matter), the Orthodox would strongly resist the notion that we exist as a balance for something else (not one of two lungs, etc.). If the Church is the fullness, then there is nothing that can balance it. That the Church exists as “schism” seems to us to suggest that the Church is “two” (or more). We are often given options, all of which invite us to be other than what we are: the fullness of the Church. Western denominationalism would like us to join the party, but it would be an agreement to be everything Orthodoxy is not. It’s a mystery and its painful but I don’t see a way around it. The East does not ignore the individual, but sees this always in the context of “personhood” which necessarily involves the Other.

  7. On that note Father, what exactly differentiates Orthodoxy being the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church and salvation? Can a non-Orthodox be saved? And if so, wouldn’t that mean that the true Church of Christ (the Choir of the Saints) reaches farther than just Orthodoxy? I’ve seen people attempt to answer this question before, but I’d like to hear your take on it.

  8. Mike,
    Not much. However, saying that requires that we rightly understand what it means to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Denominationalism, as well as the dominating view of Church as institution, distort the whole question.

    The Church is the fulfillment of all creation. It is not utterly distinct from creation, but is its fulfillment. In that sense you could say that everybody and everything created is inherently related to the Church. In Ephesians 1 we are told that God has purposed “to gather together all things into one in Christ Jesus.” The Church is that gathering.

    If we begin to grasp that a sacrament does not make something to be other than it is, but reveals it to be what it truly is, then some of this gets clearer. Baptism doesn’t make us not be creatures, but it fulfills our creaturely nature, gathering us together into Christ.

    If the Church is seen like this (and not just as a “brand” of something) then we can say that the fulfillment of all things will be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Is Orthodoxy the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? I believe it is. I also believe that the fulfillment of that reality is far from obvious.

    Can the non-Orthodox be saved? All things can be saved. But the Church is what salvation looks like.
    Fulfillment is a useful image in thinking about all of this, for it’s possible to think of something being fulfilled that is not yet complete. And that is how I see all things – as being fulfilled but not yet complete. There are many things hidden that will be revealed.

    For the time being, it is given to live the Orthodox life and to labor towards its fulfillment. That everything and everyone is called to the one fulfillment is a given for me. How that will be is not any of my business. It’s like trying to figure out the geography of heaven and hell. The Orthodox should not have to explain denominationalism or any of the rest of the world’s unfulfilled dreams. It is for us to be what we are and to become what we’ve been called to be. That’s enough.

    I hope all that is not impossibly hard to read. It’s the day of Pascha (about mid-morning) after being up all night, with a few hours of sleep.

  9. Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks for your reply. I guess I should have seen the first statement coming. (grin) But I’m a practical person. Let me explain where some of my thinking comes from.

    Friends of mine in a canonical church told me that a few years ago many people told the priest they felt lacking in pastoral care and personal relationships. He responded to this by doubling the amount of church services.

    Initially I was incensed by this but over time I realized people tend to fall into two categories: some thrive on corporate events and others thrive on personal ones – including relationships with others in the church body.

    This priest was refueled by corporate experiences, which often means church services. In his mind he was adding to the body life of his congregation and fulfilling those needs. But there are many others who are refueled by work days, small groups, and even their own private devotions.

    In my limited experience those in the Orthodox church tend to find their life in church services. While I see enough of that side of things to understand where they’re coming from, those corporate experiences alone don’t work for me. And coffee hour simply doesn’t append the necessary one-to-one or one-to-few relations needed. I want a group with which I can discuss our faith and where I’m at in the journey.

    Thus I either have to make the distinction that liturgical churches work for one type of personal and non-liturgical for the other. Or I have to come to the conclusion that the Orthodox are weak on the personal aspect, just as Protestants are weak on the corporate experience.

    But there is much I don’t see. I’d be interested in your comments.

  10. I am very edified by the Crying Stones thread,and not the least amongst the strands is Brewster 2000. I am very anxious to hear discussions over:
    “Thus I either have to make the distinction that liturgical churches work for one type of personal and non-liturgical for the other. Or I have to come to the conclusion that the Orthodox are weak on the personal aspect, just as Protestants are weak on the corporate experience.”

  11. Drewster,
    Many people in our culture(s) have needs for which the Orthodox experience is not immediately equipped. The reason is simple: much of modern experience and needs were shaped in a protestant (secular) culture whereas Orthodoxy was formed and matured in a profoundly Christian, Orthodox culture(s).
    However, the needs of secular people are still fundamentally human and can be met in an Orthodox context – but the context has to adapt – or we have to adapt. There is small group experience to be had in Orthodoxy, nothing precludes it – but many priests in convert cultures are shy about doing such things because it “feels” protestant. But it can be done without any harm to the faith, etc.

    There is much more to say on this. I’ll try to expand on this a little later.

  12. Thanks Fr. Stephen,

    From what you’re saying so far, it sounds like I and others seeking things like pastoral care and small groups must be doing so because we were raised in a secular culture. Continuing with this idea, if we were mature in our faith we would be quite content with church services and other corporate events and have no need of these other things.

    I find it difficult to think this way, that work days and personal relationships within the church are just crutches I lean on until one day when I will need nothing but corporate liturgies and my prayer closet.

    My view is that the corporate AND the personal (includng interpersonal) are both essential to wholeness of a person according to the way God created us. Monastics are given grace to do without things like marriage, but even they usually live within a community.

    I am only a moderate student of history, but I would suggest that much of Orthodoxy’s existence has thrived within the confines of small villages and ethnic communities where to a certain extent body life is built-in and not programmed. If you move to modern times and switch your location to North America, this is no longer the case. One can easily live his life without meaningful relationships to co-workers, let alone his neighbors in a common suburb where most living happens inside and away from others.

    If I go to church, stay for coffee and chat about the weather – and then go home and don’t have a natural place to speak about my journey, then my heart will mirror the same. There will either be no journey, or it will be greatly diminished.

    I want to be open-minded here. It’s possible that I am weak and shouldn’t need to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” in a group context. But I do all the same. And for better or for worse I think many North Americans share this need with me.

    There is a distinction to be drawn between the two approaches to God, to life. Are they different because of weakness? Or is this just another one of the ways God allows us to vary from others? I don’t know. I’m not even sure I care. But they exist nonetheless.

    I would be interested in further dialogue (or even a post) on this.

  13. Protestant(secular) culture is uniquely designed to respond quickly to the needs of the culture (though somewhat in a consumer mode). However, the needs are defined by the consumer and may not always be true needs in a theological sense. What American in his right mind would feel a “need” to enter a monastery and become a monk. I suspect that monasticism founded on such a basis would soon fail, since it exists to transform the individual and not conform itself to the individual’s perceived needs.

    In our culture, our perceived needs are treated as though they were objective criteria for judging things around us, but that is the mentality of a consumer.

    Churches in that context transform themselves in order to respond better to those consumer needs – which has shaped many mega church Sundays into something resembling “live TV.” I well understand the arguments of “becoming all things to all men,” but there are limits even to that.

    Orthodox worship, for example, is not designed to meet our needs, but is designed (by Holy Tradition) for the needs that we generally do not perceive, or do not perceive clearly – the need to offer ourselves in worship to the Holy God in the context of the Holy Mysteries. It is transforming of individuals, but is very hard – particularly in that individuals who have been formed and shaped in a consumer culture very quickly begin to behave like consumers and demand that the Church transform itself to meet their needs. They need to read Romans 12:1-2.

    The need for small group relationships, however, is genuine (I think) because we have created a culture in which the family and social support structures have been removed (the average American family moves once every 5 years) and as adults are often scattered across the country with siblings being separated and grandparents absent, etc.
    Thus we’ve created an artificially lonely world – asking the Church (or other structures) to replace the family, friends, etc. It’s difficult and artificial (and more than a little insane). We’ve done this to ourselves accidentally, and all in the name of our economy.

    Churches that are very responsive to the consumerist aspects of our culture adapt well to this, but, in a way, only confirm the worst of our culture’s aberrations. There was a famous sociological book in the 60’s called “The Lonely Crowd.” We’ve much deeper into its realization now than then.

  14. I wouldn’t go as far as you’ve pushed my thoughts. I do lots of pastoral care in my parish – in many kinds of situations, and many of the priests that I know do the same. But I have noticed that in parishioners from different cultures have different needs – thus my thoughts.

    We are what we are and our needs are what they are. I would not expect them to just go away as I mature. But I would like to be “self-aware” in the right sense of the word and not simply be driven by unexamined culture forces.

    The helpful approach, it seems to me, is to think carefully and openly about what we feel to be our needs (including discussing this with the priest and others in a parish) and explore creative ways of meeting those needs.

    I do not expect to meet needs by changing worship (for example), but small groups are a genuine need – our families are scattered and fragmented – the commonality of our culture is primarily our common consumer-life.

    How does a parish structure itself to help meet legitimate needs in a modern, secular culture in which the family is largely fragmented? It’s a missionary question. I live and think as a missionary priest – not all priests do. I’m a convert and I’m very understanding of the culture around me (as much as anyone). I have needs too. Priests are extremely isolated in America, for example, and it’s not healthy. So I do creative things to deal with this.

    A number of parishes have been very successful at innovating and meeting appropriate needs. I pretty involved in the community (outside the Church). I lead a class once a week at a local Christian Drug/Alcohol Treatment program, I do the OCF at the local university, and several times a year I teach classes for the general public. Small groups in my parish are more or less informal (we do a weekly class that inevitably becomes “a group”). But there is a “women’s group” and a “men’s group” and other informal groups (mostly by affinity). It’s also possible to fall between the cracks. We don’t do nearly well enough in this – but that is true of many Churches, including the non-Orthodox.

    It also matters what size the parish is – how many people are there? How life is organized is one thing for 50 another for 100 another for 500, etc.

    In America we have to remember that Orthodoxy has only spoken English since somewhere in the 70’s (and not everywhere). When I began reading about Orthodoxy in the 70’s, I owned everything that St. Vlad’s Press published and it was far less than a small shelf of books. There was no internet, and virtually no converts to talk to. The first Orthodox priest I met told me to stay where I was (as an Anglican). Met. Kallistos’ Ware’s book on The Orthodox Church was first published in 1962 – and was the first accessible writing on the topic in English.

    Having said all that, missionary work among the English speaking people has barely begun, and there are many lacunae. Not every jurisdiction of Orthodoxy is equally involved in mission work. Every convert to Orthodoxy should understand their place as a missionary. We have to identify things that are missing and be part of the solution, rather than thinking like consumers and of the Church as an institution that produces things for me to consume.

    What is needed? What should it look like? How would it mesh with Orthodoxy and its understanding of God and humanity? How can I be part of making this happen? Will it be possible here, with this group of people? with this priest?

    It’s not about ethnicity. One of the most successful mission-minded Churches that I know had a thickly-accented Middle-Eastern priest (this in the mid-west – St. Elijah in Oklahoma City).

    It is our mission to modernity – it needs many things – some priests even write blogs! 🙂

    Your analysis (about the village Church) seems spot on to me. Learning to adapt in a manner consistent with Orthodoxy is new, but is happening in some places.

  15. [last attempt for today…]


    I think I can buy it, where it all came from and why perhaps the “need” for small groups is not natural, but then you say:

    “asking the Church (or other structures) to replace the family, friends, etc. It’s difficult and artificial (and more than a little insane). We’ve done this to ourselves accidentally, and all in the name of our economy.”

    If you ask if the Church has a responsibility to fill that need, that can be debated. But let’s phrase it another way: The church has an opportunity to fill that need.

    Keith Miller in “A Second Touch” defines evangelism as “feeling around the rim of someone’s soul until you find the crack – and then putting God in it.”

    I remember a story about a Christian missionary group that was trying to gain access to a foreign country (Vietnam?) with no success. But then they heard of an opportunity. No one could be paid enough to clean out the sewage pit beneath one of their state prisons. This group offered to do the job free of charge, with the caveat that they would be allowed to share their faith. They got in.

    I am very much on the same page with you concerning the mega-churches and the pandering that a lot of Protestant churches do. Christianity isn’t about getting your so-called needs met.

    But it IS supposed to be the hospital, where you get your true needs met. If someone walks into the foyer of the church with a broken arm, what true Christian is going to tell them that Church isn’t a place that deals with this; please go back out and find your way to the hospital?

    In North America this need is there, self-imposed or not, whether in the name of the economy or anything else. The needs are there, to be loved, heard, respected, valued. It doesn’t look the same as on the streets of Calcutta. Most of the wounds, diseases, neglect, and abuse are on the inside.

    I propose it is not enough for the church to hang out a shingle and give the unspoken proclamation that “if you want the truth, you know where to come.”

    Fr. Stephen, blogs like yours and Steven Paul’s have a different tone. They reach out with love and a helping hand. They call to the highways and the byways each in their own ways. But I have not found this attitude so common in the Orthodox church. You are a light to the Gentiles, but for your example, there are ten more that want me to be circumcised before sharing the proverbial time of day.

    I don’t expect a church to conform to wants and so-called petty needs, but if I present myself, I do expect them see the pain and reach out to me (and perhaps I can do the same for them). For me attending services alone does not address that pain. I am thirsty and they hand me a book. I’m naked and they allow me to listen to their choir. That doesn’t look or smell like Christ to me. Or even death for that matter.

    I don’t argue about this with them, but you’ve made the mistake of giving me and others the time of day, the permission to darken your doorway and rest on your stoop for awhile. So I’ve taken it.


    I just finished reading your last response. My intent wasn’t to push you as much as to allow you to tell the whole story – which you just did beautifully. As always I am filled with the greatest respect. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  16. Good questions, Drewster.

    Father, your thoughts are very encouraging. That recognition that what the extended Orthodox family and village has traditionally done within Orthodox cultures is missing in modern U.S. culture is especially significant. We do indeed need to adapt. I like your suggestion to look to be part of the solution and to understand ourselves as Orthodox missionaries in our own culture. It really helps to have understanding and wise Priests/Confessors. I am thankful that in my parish we have three such (it’s a larger parish)!

  17. Good discussion on an important topic. Although perhaps not completely on point, I have begun to experience a truth which I think may be relevant:

    To find ourselves, we must first find God…He will then disclose who we really are…we find ourselves when we stop looking for ourselves and find Him

    The consumerism that Father Stephen so accurately describes begins with this belief and almost universal acceptance that we know what we need. As the Psalms describe, when we practice a ‘sacrifice of praise’ by letting go of this belief in what we know and praise and remind ourselves of who God is; we create an openness and emptiness that allows God to transform us and change us…the living sacrifice (of our desires and wants) and renewal of the mind that Father Stephen reminds us about in his earlier comment referencing Romans 12:1-2.

    The services are so fundamentally about reminding us of who God is and letting go of this focus on ourselves. Orthodoxy as a daily way of life can then place God in the Center of our lives instead of keeping us in the center with a small (and likely imaginary version) of Him in an orbit around us. Keeping this simple image in mind, that I am nothing without HIm (John 15:5) and that He is my Core and when I discover Him; I really begin to find who I am and what Truth, Light, Love , and Goodness really are. Without Him, all of what I think I know about these are simple my fabrications not His Creations.

    So, in a sense, it comes down to the simple idea of who and what are we making our God…ourselves or Him? I suspect this is a question I will answer in my attitudes and actions moment by moment for the rest of my life…as we say in AA, all we have is a daily reprieve contingent upon our spiritual condition

  18. Drewster,
    Sorry about the spam filter – don’t know what it sees sometimes.

    You do me honor by resting on this doorstep. I offer apologies (by way of the story of how “new” Orthodoxy is to the American context and its challenges). I think you’re right about the lack of welcome in some places, and those places sometimes have plenty of converts (I’ve often found “ethnic” Orthodox to be more comfortable with making needed adaptations for ministry). There is not really an excuse for the lack of heart for mission. The context of our consumer culture has created something of a backlash, including within Orthodoxy. But our agenda should never be determined by a backlash. It should simply be obedience to the gospel. Preaching to all the world certainly includes entering all of the world’s pain.

  19. Dear Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you. I think at the bottom of all this, I have simply wanted to hear “Sorry, we Orthodox admit that we aren’t perfect either” instead of just “If you Protestants have a problem, it is yours alone.”

    But here in this thread:

    As much as I can speak for the Protestants, I put my hands in yours and say “Please forgive me, for I am a sinner.” As much as you can speak for the Orthodox, you have already basically said above, “Forgive me as well because I am also a sinner; may the Lord show us both His great mercy.”

    This is the rote of Forgiveness Sunday put into action, and this is the ecumenism at its best. May it continue and multiply, one act at a time.

    God bless, Drewster

  20. I am indeed sorry. It’s good to say what we need or want to hear though sometimes we have to wait in order to be sure that the other person actually means it. I mean it. There is an “ecumene” that we all inhabit, in which we are all being saved. The ecumene and the world itself have become coterminous.

    Christ is risen!

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