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Catechumen: One who is learning the principles of Christianity.
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The theological reflections of an Eastern Orthodox convert and seminarian
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:: Tuesday, March 30, 2004 ::

A Lecture On What I Hate…

I went to a lecture last night. I am not sure why, because I hated the topic. I hate demons, and am very uncomfortable talking or hearing about them. Maybe it is because I am easily scared, or I am not confident, or maybe its because I believe in them.

There was an excellent lecture here last night by one of our “poster profs.” Dr. J.P. Moorland is one of those people that draws students to Biola; he has a bunch of PhD’s (5, I think), and is truly a good speaker. His lectures are always packed out, and are always excellent. I let my friends convince me to go; hey, it’s Dr. Moorland, it’ll be good.

As far as lectures go, it went well. As far as everything else…well, I just hate demons. I don’t understand why there is a necessity to talk about them, especially to a group like that. A few weeks ago, I got mad at some people in session and later had to apologize; they were making jokes about demons and exorcisms and such. A lecture like last night’s only feeds that kind of dangerous disrespect. Either the people there already believed in demons and wanted more information about them (although I can’t imagine why anyone would want more information…), or they did not believe in them and wanted to listen to Dr. Moorland’s stories. Most of the lecture was examples of various “demonized” people and experiences; Dr. Moorland went so far to say that up to 1/3 of Christians are at one level or another “demonized.” To a group that, in my experience, laughs at the concept of demons, this is a stupid thing to say.

Perhaps my problem is that we live in an “un-spirited” world, but still have X-files. For most Westerners I know (myself probably included), we do not believe in what we cannot prove logically; we do not believe in spirits. We may believe in God, the Bible, and other good ‘religious’ things like that, but we do not believe in a spiritual reality. We no longer believe in miracles, angels, or demons. We have a very ‘sanitized’ faith, and things like spirits take away the explicability we desire in religion. The only idea we have of demons and spirits is that which we get from X-files; even then, our parents comfort us by telling us, “It’s all just make-believe.” Unfortunately, we then accept that the spirit world is all ‘make-believe,’ and we grow up disbelieving.

I know a man who was at a monastery in Russia that was attacked by a dragon. When he told me this, I thought he was joking, “Dragons? They don’t really exist! Everyone knows that!” His answer was simple, “The monks still believe in and fear dragons, so Satan can use them as a weapon. Of course, in America, that wouldn’t work; we would laugh at dragons, and they would be powerless.” If you don’t believe dragons exist, fine. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is when you don’t only disbelieve in dragons, but you disbelieve in demons. Last night, Dr. Moorland lectured to a group that disbelieves; it was a useless, and potentially destructive lecture. I don’t think there is anything he could have said to change their minds. We don’t believe, but the stories fascinate us; we are wrongly drawn to the “thrill” of a real X-files story. But then we turn the TV off, X-files becomes just a fun memory. Unfortunately, demons are not fun memories. We disbelieve, and our disbelief makes them dangerous. Oh, yeah, and one more time: I hate demons.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 12:07 PM on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 [+] ::

:: Saturday, March 27, 2004 ::

The other day, I was relaxing in the park after practicing disc golf for a PE class. I had spent my time on the course quietly becoming proud of my growing knowledge of Orthodoxy. I had just finished playing, and was sitting on a park bench reading my book (“Elder Nectary of Optina”) when a young woman about my age approached me.

“Hi.” She smiled, “Would you like to take a survey?” I feel kind of sorry for anyone who has to approach strangers and ask questions, so I politely set my book down and started up a conversation. “Sure I’ll take a survey. My name’s Erica. I’m a student over at Biola. Do you go to La Mirada (the local high school)?” She scowled briefly, “Oh, I can’t ask you to take my survey if you’re a Biola student.” I was quickly developing the hankering suspicion that she was practicing street evangelism, but I wasn’t completely sure at that point, so I said, “Well, ask your questions; I think I’ll have interesting statistical information for the survey.”

She proceeded to ask me a battery of questions, mostly about my “worldview.” I took the challenge to myself to see if I could answer in line with Orthodoxy, while not telling her where I attended church. About halfway through the conversation, I realized I was doing miserably. While I think I know what I believe, I simply can’t communicate it! I would say something like, “I hope to someday be like God is.” She would answer, “Oh, so you’re a Mormon!” It was frustrating that she could not understand what I was saying, and I did not know how to say it any other way. Her questions were simple, and the answers were on the tip of my tongue, but I was completely confusing. Note that I wasn’t confused , but confusing . She had no idea what I was saying. And the discussion started with her in the lead: somehow, there was the unspoken underlying premise of sola scriptura that I could not shake. Although I do not strictly hold to the Bible as the only source of authority, I am so used to doing so that it is difficult for me to change that opinon. One of the biggest sticking points between us was that I would not damn people to Hell. She asked me if I thought there would be people of other religions, or even non-believers in heaven, and I had to admit that I didn’t know. She kept bringing up John 14:6, “…no one comes to the Father but by me.” I know what I think, but I just can’t defend it. Does that make my belief invalid?

I remember when I did street evangelism; the summers between my junior and senior years in high school, I spent two weeks each summer doing it. I got good at it; I was an expert apologist, able to defend my views to anyone. Now, I find myself not really caring to argue with non-believers. I still love to engage in dialogue with other Christians to clarify beliefs, but I no longer want to argue the basics with someone. I know I should be able to communicate better than I do now, but I desire less and less to argue with people. I just want to be left alone to practice my faith. This was really surprising to me. In one way, it was a wake up call: I need to know how to communicate my beliefs better. In another way, it was surprising to see how much I no longer want to argue.

Either way, I know I was not the best example of Orthodoxy to this girl or to anyone else with whom I come in contact. I dislike that I represent the Church so poorly…I guess the best plan is to keep my mouth shut about it, but…Ah, the life of an ignorant catechumen!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 2:47 PM on Saturday, March 27, 2004 [+] ::

:: Thursday, March 25, 2004 ::

Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

After an evening Liturgy last night (Antiochian Archdiocese has evening Liturgies) for Annunciation, I was excited about the feast today. It is automatically going to be a good day; it is the only feast day during the Great Fast. Today, there is food (even fish!), relaxation, and a general atmosphere of excitement. Best of all, the Virgin has conceived, and we will be saved!

Recently, I have developed an affection for the Theotokos; it is not like my rational, logical, apologetically-defensible love of the Trinity. If someone asked me to explain that, I could give a reasonable answer. With the Theotokos, I just like her; I don’t think I could rationally explain it to someone who asked, so I tend never to say anything about it.

There has to be something special about Mary, though. Why? Gabriel hailed Mary. She was so pure that an archangel greeted her with reverence and respect. He was amazed, and told her to “Rejoice”. With all of this, Mary was not overcome, but “the holy one said boldly to Gabriel: the marvel of thy speech is difficult for my soul to accept.” And after her response, Gabriel speaks “to her in fear.”

Wow. OK, let’s try putting me in this situation and see what happens. Well, firstly, it would be kind of difficult, since I would never have an angel come to me, but to judge me. If an angel did come to me, I would be much more likely to fall down and worship him (which would be wrong), or I would be paralyzed with fear. He would certainly never tell me “hail,” and if he said anything, I would be unable to speak in response to it. I certainly would be able to respond appropriately, like Mary; if I could indeed say anything, it would be along the lines of “uh…wow…duhh…” And of course, my ingenious response to the angel would elicit snickers, and if he was ever able to stop laughing, he would never speak to me in fear.

Mary received God into her womb; The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin. There is nothing more I can say but what has already been said: Rejoice, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast born the savior of our souls!


Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 1:27 PM on Thursday, March 25, 2004 [+] ::

:: Monday, March 22, 2004 ::
Three Services, One Day, Lotsa Weirdness

Yesterday, I went to three different church services. I spent the day hanging out with Demitri, a friend from back at home, who goes to a Jerusalem mission in Anaheim. Of course, no one speaks ANY English, so the whole Liturgy was in Arabic (with random portions of Greek?). After service, we were talking with the priest, Fr. Nicholas, and he asked if we wanted to come over to Claremont to another mission where he served. So, we went to a second Liturgy in Arabic; there was a memorial service after the Liturgy, so there were a lot of non-Orthodox Arabs there (some even had Muslim “prayer ropes,” as Demitri pointed out). Anyway, I know the Liturgy pretty well, so it wasn’t at all boring, and it was actually rather interesting listening to a sermon in a foreign language. I enjoyed the Liturgy, but felt isolated after the service; no one was friendly, because no one spoke any English (literally only three people in the parish: Demetri, his aunt, and the younger priest speak passable English). Overall, it was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Yesterday evening on the other hand…briefly, Demetri goes to UCLA, and is taking a comparative Christianity class, and he was supposed to go to a Protestant church. We explain the situation, and asked Fr. Nicholas for his blessing to do this. He blessed us, but clearly explained to Demetri that was not going to participate in the service, or become Protestant, but that he was going to stay for the whole thing, just to know what Protestant church is like. Fr. Nicholas didn’t have to worry. I decided to choose what I thought was a mainstream, albiet Pentecostal, church in Orange. While I didn’t grow up in a Pentecostal church, I had been to various Pentecostal services and events, so I was familiar with them.

No familiarity could have prepared either of us for where we went last night. We walked in as they started playing rock music. Then they started jumping up and down, running around the room, and other Pentecostal things (I was comfortable, but Demetri was slightly nervous with this). Then they started speaking in tongues. A lot. A lot. A lot. Demetri and I were both regretting promising Fr. Nicholas we would sit through the whole service. There was a bunch of “healings,” people falling over, screaming and running around. I think this one woman was possessed; she was like 75, and running around shaking and yelling in tongues. Demetri and I sat in the back, with our choctis, and prayed to the Mother of God for protection. Surprisingly to me, we were generally left alone. I told Demetri in the middle of the service that if anyone came up and tried to “give us the Holy Ghost,” we were going to split – quickly! No one approached us. We really were safe. It was very weird, and all I wanted to do was make the sign of the cross (I resisted but for once or twice) and leave, but we survived it. The speaker was determined that we all be “baptized in Jesus name” (I didn’t know it at the beginning, but this particular group is non-Trinitarian!) He kept bringing people up and waving his hands over them while speaking in tongues until they would also speak in tongues. He believed that this “gettin’ the Holy Ghost” was the only way someone could be “saved.” If it is possible to say without offending anyone or being rude or judgmental, I would probably say it was demonic. Scary, scary stuff. I didn’t know it would be quite like it was, or I wouldn’t have gone myself, much less bring poor Demetri.

The scariest part, for me at least, was that I had been there. No, I’d never spoken in tongues (close, but not quite), but I had done all of the rest of it. I had been there; I couldn’t believe it myself. My senior year of high school, I remember being at meetings like that…wow. As Fr. Nicholas said earlier in the afternoon, I have “come a thousand miles, and still have many thousands to go.” Yeah, I didn’t realize how much I can’t go back…I mean, I used to do that. Lord, have mercy, and forgive me a sinner!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 12:14 PM on Monday, March 22, 2004 [+] ::

:: Saturday, March 20, 2004 ::
Reflections on a Hindu Temple

This week classes were cancelled as Biola held its annual Missions Conference. Campus had a festival-like atmosphere, and the week was both very busy and enjoyable. One of the options for students to get “credit” for attending is to visit various religious centers. On Wednesday I went to a Mosque; it was educational. On Thursday, I went to a Hindu Temple…

Firstly, I would like to ask myself why I went to a Hindu temple. I guess it was out of curiosity, and because I figured a large group from my school was going, so it would be fun. (Note to self: both of the above reasons are BAD!) In one word, I would say it was spooky. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that the priest who was speaking had such a thick accent that I couldn’t understand him, so I got bored during the 90 minute lecture, and so started looking around at the temple and thinking.

It was eerie. I still am trying to decide if any of those things (ie, the idols at the front) have any power; Satan has power, so why shouldn’t they? I know Christians should not be scared of idols and their power, but I very much was. In the middle of his speech, the priest decided to teach us a little meditation; it involved rubbing the center of your forehead to connect to some god…or something like that. It was one of the more uncomfortable moments; of course, I started playing with my choctis to keep myself occupied.

I could have gotten over the meditating part, but then another priest came in and started chanting some prayers to Shiva. This is where I had the hardest time. I have gotten used to standing in church where I do not necessarily understand the language, but nevertheless allowing myself to join the chanter in the prayer. I regularly hear Arabic chanted when at St Andrew, and sometimes Russian at St Seraphim. I am used to relaxing and joining the prayer. So it was really awkward to realize that the priest was chanting to an idol, and I should not join in his prayer. I kept praying my choctis, and trying to ignore him, but it was so distracting…I should have left, and I really wanted to, but students need a certain number of “credits” for Missions Conference, and I was seated near the front.

At the end, we were offered food that they had offered to their idols. Someone told me that I had a weak conscience, but I don’t care. I politely refused it: I am not eating any food sacrificed to idols.

I am still trying to remember why I decided to go, or rather, why the school decided to schedule this trip. Now I realize I shouldn’t have; I don’t think any of us should have gone. I am also trying to decide why I wasn’t as bothered by the Mosque as I was by the Hindi Temple; it was significantly different. Either way, I think I learned my lesson about being too curious into bad religious things: don’t go there!

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 3:05 PM on Saturday, March 20, 2004 [+] ::

:: Monday, March 15, 2004 ::

The director of my college recently made this paradoy website ...I don't know why, but if nothing else, its kinda funny. (And yes, that's him bowing down to the large iron calf...)

Update: New section on women priests...Oh, and if you didn't notice, the author is Orthodox (Western Rite)...

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 8:31 PM on Monday, March 15, 2004 [+] ::

:: Thursday, March 11, 2004 ::
St. Athanasius' Soteriology II of II: God's Solution

This is my last post on Soteriology (at least for a while; I need to write the paper!). Please, I welcome your comments, and especially your corrections. All quotes are from "On the Incarnation."

Jesus “took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity,” so that “he might turn [men] again toward incorruption.” He became man from “a spotless and stainless [V]irgin,” so that he might recreate man into what he began to corrupt himself with sin. He came to restore God’s image in man, so we might once again be able to become like God himself. Jesus was God on earth; through his condescension, he let us see and know God in an otherwise impossible way. Through his life, Jesus showed us what it is like to be as God is; he is our example. So that man is without the excuse of ignorance, Jesus hung himself in front of the eyes of the world on the cross for all men to observe their crucified God; three days later, he proved his deity by rising from the dead, showing his incorruption and power over the man’s worst enemy: death. Jesus defeated death by dying himself; as God, Jesus is not corruptible, so when he submitted himself to the worst form of corruption, his incorruption destroyed Hades’ power over man; through his death, he destroyed death. Jesus offers to recreate man in his image, giving to mortals the ability to destroy and pass through death and into the life eternal, which is the fruit of incorruption. With God’s grace, and through his mercy, man can become like God, and so become incorrupt, even as Christ was incorrupt. When man allows himself to be recreated in the image of God, he can attain the incorruption of Christ, eternal life, and the bliss of Heaven for all eternity.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 10:55 PM on Thursday, March 11, 2004 [+] ::

:: Wednesday, March 10, 2004 ::
St. Athanasius' Soteriology I of II: The Problem of Man

These are more notes for a comparitive soteriology paper I am writing. They are scraps, and may not make sense. If they are theologically wrong, please tell me, though! I really want this paper to be good, and I am running out of time on it...(All quotes are from "On the Incarnation of the Word")

Man was created perfectly in the image of God. God gave man instructions on how to be happy in life, “But men, having rejected things eternal, and, by counsel of the devil, turned to the things of corruption, became the cause of their own corruption…” Man willingly corrupted the image of God, thinking there were things better than what God offered him. While man could have easily been forgiven if he had just sinned one time, he choose to continue in sin, reveling in it, and bringing himself more into darkness and away from “things eternal.” Because of his turning to evil things, “the rational man made in God’s image was disappearing, and the handiwork of God was in process of dissolution.” It was “unworthy of God’s goodness” that man should “turn again toward nonexistence,” which was his current trajectory; man was headed toward death. Man forgot his creator, and was plunging toward death in his ignorance; in his perversion, he could not stop the cycle of sin in which he was caught. Repentance was not enough, since “…repentance does not call men back from what is their nature,” but only stops the sin in which they are currently engaging. Man was dying in his sin, and needed a Redeemer.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 2:50 PM on Wednesday, March 10, 2004 [+] ::

:: Tuesday, March 09, 2004 ::

I know I have multiple posts about Confession, but it seems to be a pertinent thing during Lent, and especially for a catechumen who cannot partake in the Church’s Sacraments.

I recently realized that I have the whole idea of Confession backwards. See, I thought Confession was reading a list your and read that list to God in the presence of a priest. While this is what the physical manifestation of Confession, I have recently realized that this is not quite the point.

What is the point? Repentance. I have to actually be sorry for my sins. Not only do I have to be ashamed that I am reading them aloud in the presence of another person, but I have to be ashamed and repulsed by the very fact that I committed them. I have to hate my sins as much as God does.

Now that I know what I am supposed to do, I just have to figure out how to do it. I do not know if it is because of my pride or something else, but I am just not sorry nor repulsed by my sins. Sometimes, I am able to make excuses, even if unspoken or implied; mostly, I hold the attitude that since everyone sins, I don’t need to be too ashamed or sorry. Wrong! I need to be ashamed for my sin! But how? As I kind of being to think about perhaps maybe starting the process of trying to write a lifetime confession (gulp!), I am struck with the idea that I am just not sorry for my sins. I don’t care. I intellectually assent to the fact that my sins are wrong, but I am not sorry or contrite. How is this achieved? I read in the fathers that they weep over their sins, but I also read in the Canon of Repentance that “I have no consoling tears.” How can one repent and acknowledge the pathetic state of his condition? Repentance is more of what Confession really is; I think the actually “confessing” part would be a lot easier if I could understand the repentance part.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 9:36 PM on Tuesday, March 09, 2004 [+] ::

St. Barbara

Yesterday afternoon, I had the privilege of hanging out at St. Barbara woman’s monastery in Santa Barbara. Despite the long drive, and getting back really late, it was a wonderful day. We (myself, my best friend, her mom, little brother, and grandma) were the first to arrive, so we got to help with set up. The second Monday of each month, the sisters hold a “Friend’s Meeting,” where there is a speaker after Great Compline. The speaker this month was a hieromonk from Alaska, Fr. Benjamin; he gave a short homily during Compline, then told a few stories about Alaska during the talk. Maybe I’m weird; I am not so into all of the “talks” and “lectures” I have the privilege of attending. I am much more interested in being at church, or a monastery, and listening to all the people talk and interact. I can get all of the “bookish” knowledge I want, but it is the observation and interaction that I enjoy.

So, as I was sitting listening as all of the various clergy come in (12 or so priests, 4 or 5 deacons, a few odd monks, and the nuns who live there), and shamelessly eavesdropping on their conversations. Through the noise and accents (Russian mostly, but a few others), I was able to pick up all sorts of fun, and funny, stories. Fr. Benjamin was telling about what happened to a young man who he had sent from a rural Alaskan town to a monastery in “the lower 48” states. He said they found him one day sitting in a refrigerator eating a piece of raw fish! Uh, yeah…that’s scary. At dinner, the clergy were just like students at the cafeteria. The tables are set nicely apart, with a few chairs around each one, but they had to drag them together so they could all sit at one giant table; the matushkas just sat and lovingly laughed at them. Otherwise, I was able to observe just how many people can fit into a 15’ x 15’ foot chapel (maybe 40), more than half in black robes; another interesting observation occurred during the Prayer of St. Ephriam: just how many people do you think can actually make prostrations in that crowded of a chapel? Well, all of them, eventually.

It was good to be up there; hopefully I will be able to go again sometime.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 9:24 PM on [+] ::

:: Sunday, March 07, 2004 ::
Milton’s Satan

Milton’s Satan is really cool. I don’t think we’re supposed to like Satan, but I think Milton makes him really likable. (Oh, and Milton is my excuse why I haven’t been posting. I still have 300 pages of him to finish, and not much time.)

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 7:05 PM on Sunday, March 07, 2004 [+] ::

:: Tuesday, March 02, 2004 ::
Anselmic Justice II of II: Man's Problem to God's Solution

Disclaimer: No, I do not believe in Anselmic Justice! I am writing a paper contrasting Anselm's soteriology with Athanasius', and these are notes for the paper. They are rough and choppy, but they are a basic outline of the second half of Anselm's soteriology. The first half is here .

The solution to this problem is for Jesus to come to earth. Jesus does not have the stain of original sin, since his Mother was immaculately conceived, and so he does not owe God for the sin of general humanity; at the same time, he does not continually sin in his actions, and so lives a sinless life. It is because of sin, not only original but also continual, that God is able to justly demand death from man; because Jesus has not sinned, God cannot demand his death and his soul from him. Indeed, Anselm takes pains to say that God did not explicitly force Jesus’ death, but rather implicitly did so when he created the world. Once man sinned, it was either death to all of mankind, or Jesus’ sacrificial death, and Jesus chose his own death over ours. When Jesus willingly gave his soul to God, he paid two things: as a man he paid what men owe to God for defacing God’s honor, namely death; as God, he paid what man should pay God for defacing his honor, namely God. Of course, Jesus is so powerful that when he dies, he has the ability to take his soul back to himself again, so his death was only temporary. When he repaid God, Jesus gave him more than he owed him; he owed God for his honor, and he paid God with God himself; Jesus gave voluntarily gave more than he owed, so God owed him something back. But there is nothing that God can give to Jesus that is both worthy of him and that he does not already have. So God owed Jesus something, but could not give it to him. Therefore, Jesus choose the forgiveness of man’s sins as what God could give to him in exchange for his own soul.

In this way, man has paid back to God what he owes through Jesus (God’s honor), which Jesus was able to pay on behalf of man, being a man. But Jesus “over-paid” the debt by giving his soul. God had no way of paying Jesus back other than granting him a “wish;” Jesus choose for this wish to be the forgiveness of the sins of mankind. Man no longer owes God, God no longer owes Jesus, and since Jesus gave us our gift, all we owe to him is thanks. Man is forgiven from his sins, and is able to enjoy heaven because of his sinlessness.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 8:14 PM on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 [+] ::

:: Monday, March 01, 2004 ::
Finer Points of Fasting

Yesterday, Fr. Josiah gave a very nice homily on the finer points of fasting. He was sharing how the physical fast is a reminder of our spiritual repentance. He discussed the idea of there being three pillars of Lent: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. The homily was good, and I am sure it covered and expounded on the finer points of the Fast. But I don’t get it.

I am at the level where I do not imagine the “finer” reasons of fasting. I fast and pray and give alms, but I don’t get it at the “spiritual” level. It all seems really complex and complicated, like something I should study for years before trying. It seems like there are more things that I could do wrong because of ignorance than do right because of dedication. But I still try; I know I should do it anyway. Sure, maybe I won’t get as much out of Lent as I will when I fully understand it, but “jumping in” is better than standing on the sidelines.

And the cool part of Lent is that I don’t have to fully understand it to get something out of it. Already in the last week, I have seen the power of God work in my life through prayer and discipline in ways I couldn’t have imagined a year ago. I was in tears when I got a letter last week, and now I laugh aloud as the issues that so worried me seem to miraculously resolve themselves. I am learning to pray and ask for God’s blessing even in the little things of life; I am thankful for caf food, even if all I get is rice with honey on top. I don’t get Lent; but I do it anyway, and it is good.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 9:56 PM on Monday, March 01, 2004 [+] ::

Thank you

Thank you for your prayers. I spoke with my mom, and life is much better. It is still not perfect, nor will it be this side of Paradise; but it is much better. Thank you.

Forgive me,


Glory to God!

:: 9:45 PM on [+] ::

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