Category Archives: Saints

Gleanings from a Book: “The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson

Author’s note: Because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, I was privileged to see a few spreads of this book more than a year before its publication. Although they were but sketches when I saw them, I was struck by their quality and the images gripped me. And my first reading of the (now full-color) book has confirmed what I suspected even then: this book is a treasure. 

“The Cross and the Stag” by Gabriel Wilson tells the true story of Placidas the soldier, who, amidst his worldly successes and earthly means, was lovingly faithful to his wife and sons, while also being very generous to those in need outside of his home. Perhaps you have never heard of Placidas the Soldier? He was given the name Eustathius at baptism. If you are not familiar with St. Eustathius, either, his story is one that you will do well to learn. There is much that each of us can learn from this saint: through his responses to both misfortunes and pleasant experiences, and through his faithfulness to God. Eustathius already had a good life when he first met Christ, and he served Our Lord fervently after his conversion.

Just like many saints who had gone on before him, Eustathius’ life did not continue to be “good” – well, at least by worldly standards. However, also like those saints, he remained faithful to Christ for his entire life. Like St. Paul, Eustathius had a powerful visitation from Christ which became a conversion experience for him and his household (although his wife had been mysteriously forewarned in a dream, so she was ready!). Like Righteous Job the Longsuffering, bit by bit Eustathius’ status, wealth, and finally even his family were taken from him. Like Righteous Joseph the Patriarch, his faithfulness in his work eventually brought Eustathius honor (and miraculously his loved ones were restored to him once again, as well). And finally, like the Three Holy Youths, the family faced a fiery entrapment with faith and grace.

Throughout the book, Gabriel Wilson has thoughtfully paired his images and text in a way which seamlessly tells the story while also allowing the reader to read between the lines when necessary. The illustrations are masterfully created, simultaneously communicating actions and emotions in a way that is both tasteful and effective. What a gift it is to have an artist of this caliber offer his work to the Orthodox Christian world in a way that makes a saint’s story so appealingly accessible to people of all ages!

Following St. Eustathius’ story in the book, readers will find the troparion and kontakion for St. Eustathius. There is also a spread featuring a variety of icons of him which have been written. The book concludes with a few historical notes from the author.

St. Eustathius’ story is gripping! I sat down to just begin the book but ended up reading the whole thing in one great gulp. Mystery, suspense, loss, love: all are found on the pages of this beautiful work of art. I know that I’ll read it again, and I suspect that I will not be the only one. There’s something here for everyone. St. Eustathius’ story and the lessons that his life teaches us will be treasured by each individual who reads this book.

To purchase a copy of this book, visit https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-cross-and-the-stag-the-incredible-adventures-of-st-eustathius/

Here are a few gleanings from the book (this time, we are sharing the  quotes in the context of their images), as well as additional information about St. Eustathius:

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On Sept. 20, we commemorate St. Eustathius and his family. Here is a short podcast about them: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/saintoftheday/sep_20_-_great_martyr_eustathius_placidas_and_his_family

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Find the story of St. Eustathius’ life, along with many icons which have been written to help us remember him, here: https://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/09/st-eustathius-eustace-placidas-great.html

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There’s even more of the story of St. Eustathius (including backstory of his family’s experiences) in this detailed description of his life: https://pravoslavie.ru/74099.html

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In the historical notes at the end of “The Cross and the Stag,” we read that “St. Eustathius is the patron saint of hunters, firefighters, and those who face adversity.” Author Gabriel Wilson also notes that people request St. Eustathius’ prayers when they’re traveling over rivers and seas. Readers facing adverse times (or traveling, hunting, or firefighting) may be glad to learn this, and ask for his prayers.

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On the Mother of God: Quotes from the Church Fathers

As we prepare our hearts for and then commemorate the Feast of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, let us take some time to think about Mary, the Theotokos. What can we learn from her love for God and her submission to His will? How did her choices and the way that she lived her earthly life affect ours? How does she continue to impact the world since her dormition?

We have gathered quotes from the Church fathers about the Theotokos. Many of those quoted here lived in an age closer to her earthly life than the current era. We plan to share these quotes for you to ponder throughout the (new calendar) fast. As you read each quote, may you be inspired to be as genuine, humble, and obedient as she has been.

May the Holy Mother of God pray for all of us, that we will be saved and that we will follow God as wholeheartedly as she did!

 

In case you missed these when they first came out, here are two related posts. The first offers some thoughts – mostly from the scriptures – about the Theotokos as a mother and how parents can be encouraged to emulate her: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/on-the-theotokos-as-mother/

And the second offers a story that may be a helpful tool as you talk with young children about her Dormition: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/on-the-feast-of-the-dormition-of-the-theotokos-august-15-or-28/

 

Here are a few of the things that the Church Fathers had to say about the Mother of Our Lord:

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“I have been amazed that some are utterly in doubt as to whether or not the Holy Virgin is able to be called the Mother of God. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how should the Holy Virgin who bore him not be the Mother of God?” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“Come, let us wonder at the virgin most pure, wondrous in herself, unique in creation, she gave birth, yet knew no man; her pure soul with wonder was filled, daily her mind gave praise in joy at the twofold wonder: her virginity preserved, her child most dear. Blessed is He who shone forth from her!” ~ St. Ephraim the Syrian

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“In her manner she showed that she was not so much presented into the Temple, but that she herself entered into the service of God of her own accord, as if she had wings, striving towards this sacred and divine love. She considered it desirable and fitting that she should enter into the Temple and dwell in the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, the High Priest, seeing that this child, more than anyone else, had divine grace within her, wished to set her within the Holy of Holies. He convinced everyone present to welcome this, since God had advanced it and approved it. Through His angel, God assisted the Virgin and sent her mystical food, with which she was strengthened in nature, while in body she was brought to maturity and was made purer and more exalted than the angels, having the Heavenly spirits as servants. She was led into the Holy of Holies not just once, but was accepted by God to dwell there with Him during her youth, so that through her, the Heavenly Abodes might be opened and given for an eternal habitation to those who believe in her miraculous birthgiving.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas

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“And since the holy Virgin hath borne after the Flesh God united personally to the Flesh, therefore we do say that she is also Mother of God, not as though the Nature of the Word had the beginning of Its existence from flesh, for It was in the beginning and the Word was God, and the Word was with God [John 1:1], and is Himself the Maker of the ages, Co-eternal with the Father and Creator of all things.” ~ St. Cyril of Alexandria

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“I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her she rushes to our help. You don’t even finish saying, ‘All-holy Theotokos, help me’ and at once, like lightning, she shines through the nous and fills the heart with illumination. She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to Love.” ~ Elder Joseph the Hesychast

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“How honored and magnified is mankind through the Holy Virgin Mother of God, for it has been made worthy of renewal and sonship by God; She herself was made worthy by her immeasurable humility and exceedingly great purity and holiness to be the Mother of the God-man!” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“When God became known to us in the flesh, He neither received the passions of human nature, nor did the Virgin Mary suffer pain, nor was the Holy Spirit diminished in any way, nor was the power of the Most High set aside in any manner, and all this was because all was accomplished by the Holy Spirit. thus the power of the Most High was not abased, and the child was born with no damage whatsoever to the mother’s virginity.” ~ St. Gregory of Nyssa

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“Why is it hard to believe that Mary gave birth in a way contrary to the law of natural birth and remained a virgin, when contrary to the law of nature the sea looked at Him and fled, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their source (Ps. 113:3). Is it past belief that a virgin gave birth when we read that a rock issued water (Ex. 17:6), and the waves of the sea were made solid as a wall (Ex. 14:22)? Is it past belief that a Man came from a virgin when a rock bubbled forth a flowing stream (Ex. 20:11), iron floated on water (4 Kings 6:6), a Man walked upon the waters (Mt. 14:26)? If the waters bore a Man, could not a virgin give birth to a man? What Man? Him of Whom we read: ‘…the Lord shall be known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day; and they shall offer sacrifices, and shall vow vows to the Lord, and pay them’ (Is. 19:20).

In the Old Testament a Hebrew virgin (Miriam) led an army through the sea (Ex. 15:21); in the New testament a king’s daughter (the Virgin Mary) was chosen to be the heavenly entrance to salvation.” ~ St. Ambrose

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“…The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.

And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.” ~St Irenaeus of Lyon

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“The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly, by our side, and all too often we forget her.” ~ Elder Thaddeus

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“When you are about to pray to our Lady the Holy Virgin, be firmly assured, before praying, that you will not depart from her without having received mercy. To think thus and to have confidence in her is meet and right. She is, the All-Merciful Mother of the All-Merciful God, the Word, and her mercies, incalculably great and innumerable, have been declared from all ages by all Christian Churches; she is, indeed, an abyss of mercies and bounties, as is said of her in the canon of Odigitry..” ~ St. John of Kronstadt

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“O undefiled, untainted, uncorrupted, most pure, chaste Virgin, Thou Bride of God and Sovereign Lady, who didst unite the Word of God to mankind through thy most glorious birth giving, and hast linked the apostate nature of our race with the heavenly; who art the only hope of the hopeless, and the helper of the struggling, the ever-ready protection of them that hasten unto thee, and the refuge of all Christians: Do not shrink with loathing from me a sinner, defiled, who with polluted thoughts, words, and deeds have made myself utterly unprofitable, and through slothfulness of mind have become a slave to the pleasures of life. But as the Mother of God Who loveth mankind, show thy love for mankind and mercifully have compassion upon me a sinner and prodigal, and accept my supplication, which is offered to thee out of my defiled mouth; and making use of thy motherly boldness, entreat thy Son and our Master and Lord that He may be pleased to open for me the bowels of His lovingkindness and graciousness to mankind, and, disregarding my numberless offenses, will turn me back to repentance, and show me to be a tried worker of His precepts. And be thou ever present unto me as merciful, compassionate and well disposed; in the present life be thou a fervent intercessor and helper, repelling the assaults of adversaries and guiding me to salvation, and at the time of my departure taking care of my miserable soul, and driving far away from it the dark countenances of the evil demons; lastly, at the dreadful day of judgment delivering me from torment eternal and showing me to be an heir of the ineffable glory of thy Son and our God; all of which may I attain, O my Sovereign Lady, most holy Theotokos, in virtue of thine intercession and protection, through the grace and love to mankind of thine only begotten Son, our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship, together with His unoriginate Father, and His Most Holy and good and life creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” ~ from the Small Compline: The Supplicatory Prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos

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“Hail to you forever, Virgin Mother of God, our unceasing joy, for to you do I turn again. You are the beginning of our feast; you are its middle and end; the pearl of great price that belongs to the kingdom; the fat of every victim, the living altar of the Bread of Life [Jesus]. Hail, you treasure of the love of God. Hail, you fount of the Son’s love for man. . . . You gleamed, sweet gift-bestowing Mother, with the light of the sun; you gleamed with the insupportable fires of a most fervent charity, bringing forth in the end that which was conceived of you . . . making manifest the mystery hidden and unspeakable, the invisible Son of the Father—the Prince of Peace, who in a marvelous manner showed himself as less than all littleness.” ~ St. Methodius

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” . . . when the Church tells us in Her hymns and icons that the Apost­les were mira­culously gat­he­red from the ends of the earth in order to be pre­sent at the repose and burial of the Mot­her of God, we as Ort­ho­dox Chri­sti­ans are not free to deny this or rein­ter­pret it, but must believe as the Church hands it down to us, with sim­pli­city of heart.” ~ St. John Maximovich
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Learning About a Saint: St. Artemius of Verkova (June 23/July 6 and October 20/Nov. 2)

In 1532, Cosmas “The Lesser” and his wife Apollinaria, pious peasants in the Russian village of Dvina Verkola, had a son. They named him Artemius. Cosmas and Apollinaria raised their son to love and honor God with his life. Even from an early age, Artemius lived a virtuous Christian life. Some sources say that by the time he was five, Artemius didn’t want to do what other kids his age did. Instead, he loved to work and tried to help his parents however he could with the household chores. He happily obeyed his parents, and any free time he had left when chores were finished, he spent in church. If he couldn’t be in church, he’d sneak away to where no one could see him, and pray.

One day, when he was twelve, Artemius and Cosmas were working together on their farm work. They were out tilling their fields when a thunderstorm suddenly appeared overhead. Artemius couldn’t even run for cover before a lightning bolt struck him and killed him. It was June 23, 1545.

At that time, many people in the region were superstitious, and they believed that a sudden death like Artemius’ was a terrible thing. They thought that he died suddenly because God was judging Artemius for something bad that he had done. Because of this, the people wouldn’t bury him or even give him a proper funeral! Instead, his body was taken to a meadow, where a wooden shell was placed over it, and a fence was built around it.

Thirty-two years later, a deacon named Agafonik was out gathering berries when he saw a bright light shining right up into the air. As Agafonik came closer to the light, he saw the body of Artemius, covered with tree branches, lying in a clearing. The light was shining up into the air right above the boy’s body. The body was incorrupt – he had not decayed at all – in fact it looked to Agafonik like he was just sleeping there! The deacon ran to get the priest and the other villagers. Because his body was incorrupt after all of those years, the whole village knew that Artemius was very holy, so they brought his body back to the courtyard in front of St. Nicholas’ church. They placed it in a coffin covered in birch bark, and kept it in the courtyard of the church.

At that time, there was a terrible flu that was going through the village of Verkola, and many people were dying from it. One man, Kallinik, had a son who had this flu. Kallinik was afraid that his son would also die. He went to the church of St. Nicholas and prayed. He begged Christ to heal his son. He also asked the Theotokos, St. Nicholas, and even Artemius to pray for his son. Then he took a piece of birch bark from Artemius’ coffin back to his home, and placed it on his son’s chest. His son was immediately healed! Kallinik told others in the village what happened. Other villagers who took pieces of the bark from Artemius’ coffin to the sick people in their homes found that their loved ones were all healed, as well!

In the years since his incorrupt body was discovered, there have been other times when St.Artemius has healed people. Sometimes he appears to the people that he heals, and talks with them. For example, once there was a man from Kholmogor named Hilarion who went blind. He was very sad and didn’t feel like doing anything anymore because he couldn’t see. But on the feast of St. Nicholas, St. Artemius came to him. Artemius was holding a staff in his left hand and a cross in his right hand, and he told Hilarion, “Arise, Christ heals you by the hand of His servant Artemius. Go to Verkola, bow down before his coffin, and relate everything to the priest and the peasants.” As soon as St. Artemius finished speaking, Hilarion could see again!

In 1584, people who were grateful for St. Artemius’ help and prayers built a side chapel for him. They moved his body into that chapel from the courtyard where it had been ever since it was found. Years later, St. Artemius healed a military commander’s son. The commander was so thankful that he built a whole church dedicated to the saint! In 1619, St. Artemius’ relics were moved to that church. The church burned down thirty years later, but St. Artemius’ relics were found.

In 1648, more than a hundred years after Artemius died, Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich of Russia ordered that a monastery was built and named for St. Artemius, and placed under his protection. His relics were taken to the monastery with his name so that people could continue to venerate them and ask for his prayers. Over the centuries many miracles were attributed to these relics by people who have approached them with true faith in Christ. Besides healing people from illnesses and blindness, God has also healed lame and deaf people through the prayers of St. Artemius. He has interceded for men and women, old people and young people; and there are so many miracles that God has worked through this saint that one source said it would be impossible to write them all down. Glory to God for His work through this holy child saint!

In the summer of 1918, as the Bolsheviks began to terribly persecute the Orthodox Christian Church, St. Artemius’ relics were among those that were destroyed. Even though his earthly relics have been destroyed, we know that this holy saint is still alive with God, and that he continues to pray for those who ask him to do so! And he has not stopped appearing to people in visions.

An American iconographer, Philip Zimmerman, who was living near Johnstown, PA, had a waking vision of a child saint. The child saint asked him to “paint what he saw for the children at the Village.” Mr. Zimmerman pondered the vision and prayed about it, and finally about 5 years later, he painted what he had seen, the holy saint Artemius. After that, St. Artemius appeared to Mr. Zimmerman additional times, confirming what he had seen in the dream about the saint’s hagiography. At that time, Fr. John Namie was directing Antiochian Village. He coordinated the selection of a site and the building of a rock shrine for the icon on that site. The icon stands there in its shrine to this day, to the right of the entrance to the St. Ignatius Church, in the midst of Antiochian Village Camp. St. Artemius’ shrine stands watch over the huge fields of Antiochian Village, even as the saint watches over – and prays for – the children and adults who spend time there.

 

Through the prayers of St. Artemius the Righteous Child Wonderworker, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

 

Here are some related links and discussion ideas that may be helpful  to your family as you learn about St. Artemius:

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This blog shares St. Artemius of Verkova’s story in detail, and includes several icons of him. https://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/10/saint-artemius-of-verkola-righteous.html

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St. Artemius has a lot to teach Orthodox Christians of all ages about being faithful to God in all that we do!

Parents: what are we doing to live Godly, obedient lives? Do we run to help others or to go to Church, or to pray whenever possible, as St. Artemius did? Are we raising our children in godliness and modeling the faith for them?

Children: what are you doing to show your love for God? Do you obey your parents and try to help them with as many chores as you can, like St. Artemius did? Do you love to be in Church and to pray more than you love to play with your friends?

None of us is St. Artemius, so probably we have a lot of work to do in these areas, in order to become like him. We can’t change our hearts all at once, but we can BEGIN to change to be more godly. We can start  with small steps. For example, whenever there’s a thunderstorm, perhaps we can let it remind us of St. Artemius’ faithfulness to God. When we remember his example of godliness, we can ask him to pray for us that we will grow to be holy and faithful, too.

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Your family can learn St. Artemius’ troparion and chant it together on one of his commemoration days. Or maybe you’ll want to sing it whenever there’s a thunderstorm!

Troparion (tone 2)

By the command of the Most High, the sky was darkened with rain clouds,

lightning flashed, threat’ning thunder clashed,

and you gave up your soul into the hands of the Lord, O Artemius most wise.

Now as you stand before the Throne of the Lord of All,

you grant healing unfailingly to those who come to you with faith and love,

and you pray to Christ our God that our souls may be saved.

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Together as a family, you can listen to St. Artemius’ story in Ancient Faith Radio’s podcast, “Tending the Garden of our Hearts”: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden/st_artemius

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What other wonderworking saints does your family know? Find a list of saints that are known to help by praying for specific needs here: http://www.saintbarbara.org/growing_in_christ/praying_to_the_saints

Can you find St. Artemius of Verkova in the list?

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Iconographer Philip Zimmerman is still writing icons, and he even leads iconography classes! Check out his website here: https://www.philzicons.com/

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Anthony, the Great” by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka

Just because Anthony is only “four fingers old” doesn’t keep him from helping his family members to keep perspective on their challenges. However, being four has trials of its own, and being a four-year-old who is also an Orthodox Christian affords additional unique tests. But Anthony is ready to meet his challenges! He faces them well with the help of his sidekick Mikey (who happens to be a stuffed dinosaur) and of his patron saint, St. Anthony the Great.

In “Anthony, the Great”, Deacon John Sarantakis offers the tale of a young boy struggling to struggle. The book begins with Anthony reminding everyone that whatever they’re going through is not as big as a dinosaur. Readers of all ages can relate to some part of Anthony’s personality: whether to his love for dinosaurs, his desire for adventure, or his determination to be right. They will be challenged by Anthony’s longing to emulate his patron saint; even when everyone – right down to his favorite stuffed toy – does not do things exactly how he wishes they would be done. Throughout his challenges, Anthony faithfully struggles, as did his patron saint. Each time he does so, love and warmth well up in the heart of the person Anthony has blessed by his struggle. By the end of the book, Anthony discovers something BIGGER than a dinosaur, which is really something to realize!

Misha Pjawka’s watercolor, gouache, and pencil on hot pressed paper illustrations interact with the text in a beautiful dance of playfulness and color, charmingly collaborating to enhance the tale. There’s a degree of transparency to the illustrations that effectively communicates the storyline while also speaking to the state of Anthony’s soul: he clearly longs to do what is right. The book offers its readers an unclouded look at his struggle, both through the text and illustrations. (Side note: both young readers and the young at heart will especially enjoy watching Mikey throughout the book, as he wholeheartedly embraces Anthony’s experiences and adds a touch of humor with his take on them.)

The book ends with a brief overview of the life of St. Anthony. It tells some of his story, and includes his icon. There’s just enough of his story there to help the reader appreciate Anthony’s desire to emulate his patron saint, and perhaps to whet their appetite to learn more about this holy saint who is sometimes called the “father of monasticism.”

I can’t help wishing that Anthony were a real boy. I know that I would enjoy hanging out with him and Mikey, and learning how to emulate St. Anthony the Great by interacting with them. Although he is a fictional character, at least I can enter into Anthony’s life for a moment and be challenged by his struggle to struggle, every time I read “Anthony, the Great”.

 

Purchase your own copy of “Anthony, the Great” here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/anthony-the-great/

Here are a few gleanings from the book, as well as some suggestions of ways to engage your family and encourage learning through it:

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“No matter what the day may bring, Papa and Mama often take time to remind Anthony what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.” (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Each time you read this part of the book, allow this phrase to spark a question in your own mind: How are you doing with this? Are you  regularly reminding your child(ren) what it means to be an Orthodox Christian? Perhaps every morning you pray the prayer that includes this phrase, “Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfil Thy holy will…”, but are you teaching your children by example, and showing them how that plays out? Are you doing this especially on the days that things do not go the way that you wish or ”need” them to go? (Find the prayer in its entirety here: http://www.stgeorgeofboston.org/ourfaith/prayers/morningprayer)

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“‘We strive to love God more than anything else,’ says Mama. ‘Sometimes that means not getting or doing what we want. That can be hard. Even so, we struggle to put others before ourselves.’”  (p. 10, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Talk together about how hard it is to love God more than anything else. What choices does your family make that demonstrate this great love for God? Is it ever hard, like Mama said? Are you struggling to put others before yourselves? How is that working out? If you find yourself lacking in this area, you may want to read this article for encouragement and practical help: http://www.stgeorgegreenville.org/our-faith/tenpointprogram/putting-others-first

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“His patron saint, St. Anthony the Great, had to struggle. A lot… Anthony quietly prayed that he might be more like this great saint of God.” (p. 13, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Do your children know a lot about their patron saint? The more they know about their saint, the better they will be able to emulate them and the more likely they will feel close enough to their patron saint to ask for their prayers. Find ways to help your child(ren) learn even more about their saint. Encourage them to pray that they will become more like their saint. Here is a blog post suggesting ways to teach your children about the saints: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/teaching-your-children-about-the-saints/

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“Papa says temptations are chances to show our love for God.” (p. 16, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Multiple times each day, we pray that God will lead us not into temptation, yet we constantly find ourselves being tempted. Anthony’s statement about what his papa says can help us to wrap our minds around why we are tempted. Find some resources that will help you think about temptations (in the context of the Lord’s Prayer) here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/on-the-lords-prayer-and-lead-us-not-into-temptation/

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“…He was struggling to struggle. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, and he wanted to do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it! Even so, Anthony, remembering his prayer, decided to act like his saint…” (p. 25, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Struggle is an important – and necessary – part of our Orthodox Christian life. Read what the scriptures and the Church fathers have to say about it here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/on-struggle/

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“‘My sweet boy, because you struggled against what you wanted, you helped your family. I’m proud of you. When we do these things, we imitate Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. A love that is bigger and greater than anything else in the world.’” ~ Anthony’s Papa (p. 27, “Anthony, the Great”, by John Sarantakis, Illustrated by Misha Pjawka)

Invite family members to share times when they have seen another family member sacrifice themselves or their desire for someone else. How did it make them feel to see that happen? Can anyone tell about a time that they did not sacrifice themselves or their own desire, but they wish they had? How would the experience have been different, if they had done so? This article will encourage you to continue to love more and more selflessly: http://myocn.net/selfless-nature-love/

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Gleanings from a Book: A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short, by Creative Orthodox


There are very few Orthodox Christian graphic novels. Presumably this is due to the fact that it takes so much time and energy to create one, especially if one wishes to accurately share the life of a saint. St. John the Short was no ordinary person, and therefore this is no ordinary graphic novel. I am grateful that Creative Orthodox* spent so many years researching St. John’s life and painstakingly creating this book. Presenting the story of St. John the Short through the use of this storytelling medium makes his story accessible to people of so many different ages. Young and old alike will enjoy this book and learn so much about (and from!) St. John’s life. As they read, they will be strengthened in their faith. This graphic novel effectively brings to life St. John the Short’s wisdom and insights.

“A Forest in the Desert” shares the life of St. John the Short. It begins with his first youthful attempt to go into the desert and become a monk, follows through his actual monastic calling, and continues all the way through his monastic life. The book offers a glimpse into monastic life as it was in his lifetime. The stories about St. John are intertwined with glimpses into his wisdom, expressed here in his own words. There are also accounts of miracles which God wrought through him, including the healing of a leper and that of a demon-possessed woman; an amazing encounter with the three Hebrew youths from the fiery furnace in Babylon; and more.

The book closes with an epilogue which allows the reader further insights into some of the saints mentioned in St. John’s story. There follow pages of interesting notes, with additional details about some of the events and/or illustrations on previous pages. Each note is clearly labeled with its corresponding page number and adds depth to the book as a whole. Following the notes are illustrations of several of St. John’s sayings.

Creative Orthodox has beautifully utilized the medium of the graphic novel, finding just the right words while also knowing when it is better to communicate with an illustration instead. Many times the drawings say more than words could, thus communicating ideas and events in a way that is easily (and quickly!) understandable. The drawings, done with pen and ink, are simple enough to appreciate at a glance, but detailed enough to convey what they are meant to illustrate. And, while they are not icons, the illustrations (and this book as a whole) point the reader to Christ through the life of this wonderful saint, St. John the Short.

I am truly grateful that Creative Orthodox was kind enough to share the ebook version of this extraordinary graphic novel so that I could read it and share it with you. I have already read it more than once, and have gleaned more from the life of this inspiring saint with each reading.


*Note: Michael Elgamal created “Creative Orthodox” so that his work would not be about him. Follow Creative Orthodox’s work through the social media links found here: https://creativeorthodox.com/

Order your copy of this graphic novel here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/creativeorthodox/shop/

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

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“When it comes to the lives of the Fathers, it’s not the exact dates or details that benefit us the most, it’s their character and virtues that give us an example to follow in our own lives. St. John the Short is a prime example in obedience…It’s his compassion and love for Christ and God’s creation that never cease to amaze me. He served his community, loved everyone unconditionally, and took good care of his spiritual children.” (Preface, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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“…whatever you do when pursuing asceticism, do for the love of Christ. We don’t live in asceticism only because it helps us overcome the passions. We do it because we love God. Everything we do: psalmody, vigils, seclusion, sleeping on the ground, and any ascetic practice are sacrifices we offer up to God. it is our way of expressing our love for Christ and offering up our own bodies as sweet incense…” (Abba Amoin, explaining the reason for monastic practices to St. John the Short, p. 44, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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“One day, the Elder Amoi was inspired. He took a piece of dry wood and called John. He asked him to fill a bucket with water and follow. They walked for hours… Abba Amoi planted the stick firmly into the ground. ‘I want you to walk to the well daily, fill up a bucket with water, and come here to water the stick.’ …John understood that watering a dry stick wouldn’t bring it to life, but he quietly obeyed out of love for his abba. And this was how John’s biggest trial started. It wasn’t a one-time test of endurance. It was a daily test of love, perseverance, and obedience… John continued to water the stick every single day for three consecutive years. And the stick into a beautiful tree. Abba Amoi took the fruit of the tree, gathered the monks, and gave it to the elders, saying, ‘Take, eat from the fruit of obedience.’” (pp. 65-70, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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“The foundation of our house is our brother. If I guard the foundation, we will build our house and crown it with a roof.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 102, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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“…you frequently find yourselves asking, ‘Why do we fast so often?’ I’ll tell you why. When a king seeks to conquer a city, he surrounds the city walls and blocks access to its water well, spoiling the city’s food supplies. The defending city will soon give in to hunger and thirst and will fall to the attacking army. This is exactly like fasting. When you abstain from eating, you control yourself and guard your soul to rule over evil.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 126, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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“The saints of God are like trees. Their lives start with seeds sown by Christ that grow with guidance and attention to eternal life into beautiful trees, that form a garden of goodness. Each one is very much alive and continually gives fruit.” (from the Epilogue, p. 169, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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“My thoughts with my mind are in heaven, but my meditation is buried in the dust below every creature… Know this, that among all the duties of perfection none are higher than humility and obedience to God and the holy fathers. This is what makes the soul shine with the Lord’s light.” ~ St. John the Short (p. 179, “A Forest in the Desert the Life of St. John the Short”, by Creative Orthodox)

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Gleanings from a Book: “Spyridon’s Shoes” by Christine Rogers

Christine Rogers’ new book, “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a comfortable fit for its readers. The language is simple enough for mid-elementary-level readers to read on their own. The story line is intriguing, though, and will capture the attention of younger or older children as well as the adults who read this book.

Young Spyros’ family is hard-working, but nonetheless they experience one hardship after another. The book tells the story of how Spyros (a nickname for Spyridon) and his family face each of their struggles with faith. It also reveals the ways in which God chooses to send help.

The grandfatherly man who arrives and helps Spyros when he badly cuts his foot early in the story is, interestingly enough, also named Spyridon. Spyros offers to call the grandfather “Abba” and the man accepts that nickname. After the first meeting, Abba continues to show up in Spyros’ life, helping him as needed and inspiring him to do what is right. It takes the reader almost the entirety of the book to realize that “Abba” is actually Saint Spyridon himself, appearing to and physically assisting his young namesake who truly needs his help.

Although “Spyridon’s Shoes” is a work of fiction, it is a highly believable and delightful read. This book very naturally shares much of the wisdom of St. Spyridon, challenging readers to growth in their own Christian walk, without the reader feeling at all that they are being preached at by anyone. It incorporates some true stories of ways in which God has used St. Spyridon in the lives of those who have asked for (and received) his help. The book offers a glimpse into the saint’s real life on earth, within the context of a fictitious story.

Besides the story itself, there are a few extras that make this book so helpful to its readers. Vladimir Ilievski’s cover and occasional illustrations throughout the book are true to the story, giving readers a face for each Spyridon, while also bringing to life the setting on Corfu. The pages about St. Spyridon himself, found near the end of the book, help readers to learn even more about this wonderful saint. His troparion and icon are at the end of the book, for those who wish to ask for his prayers and see his icon.

This book is an enjoyable read for young and old alike. Children will resonate with Spyros and love his story so much that they will slip back into it, re-reading the book from time to time. Just like St. Spyridon’s shoes, this book will be well-worn by the families and libraries who own it. Here’s hoping that Christine Rogers keeps writing books like this!

 

Purchase your own copy of “Spyridon’s Shoes” (available in paperback or ebook) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/spyridons-shoes/

Here are a few gleanings from the book (mostly quotes from “Abba”/St. Spyridon, so as not to give away any of the story line), as well as a handful of resources that can help your family learn more about St. Spyridon and his miracles:

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“Spyros sat down, and the old man took his foot again. He tore a piece of fabric from the bottom of his cassock and used it to gently dry and wrap Spyros’ injury. He then took one of his own shoes and eased it over the bulky bandage.” (p. 22, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“‘Pray in the little things, pray in the big things. Leave everything to Him.’ Abba lifted his hand and showed Spyros the rope he was holding. ‘This is a prayer rope… For each knot on the prayer rope, say a prayer. Even the simplest prayer works great good in our hearts.’” (pp. 34-35, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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(Spyros is talking to his friend Niko about Abba here:) “‘…when he talks about God, he does it in a way that makes me want to listen instead of staring out a window at church, just waiting for liturgy to be over.’ He looked at his friend. ‘I know it is strange, but I still hope that you can meet him. And then he will say to you the same thing he always says to me— “Until we meet again, may God bless you.’”’ (pp. 50-51, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“‘It is good to have goals and to make plans, Spyros,’ Abba said, ‘but you must remember to give all those plans and goals to God in heaven. Ask for His blessings and mercy before you begin any task.’” (p. 57, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“‘Saint Spyridon is the patron saint of our island,’ his father replied. ‘Many times he has saved the people here from invasion and enemies. Once,there was a great famine, and no one had any food to eat. By the prayers of Saint Spyridon, a storm blew a ship off course, and the ship was full of grain. It landed here on Corfu, and the people were saved from starvation.’” (p. 79, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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“Spyros reached his hand out to touch the icon on top of the reliquary. Father Theodore continued to speak. ‘Saint Spyridon is famous for his miracles and for appearing to people in need. He walks about so much helping people that he wears out his shoes. In fact, every year, we open his reliquary and give him new ones.’”(p. 84, “Spyridon’s Shoes”, by Christine Rogers)

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St. Spyridon was present at the first ecumenical council. At that council, he used a brick to demonstrate the unity of the Trinity. He held the brick in his hand and then squeezed it. Miraculously, fire shot up from it, water dripped out of it onto the ground, and then all that was left in his hand was dust. “There was only one brick,” Saint Spyridon said, “but it was composed of three elements. In the Holy Trinity there are three Persons, but only one God.” Read this and more about the life of St. Spyridon, including many miracles worked in his lifetime, here: https://oca.org/saints/lives/2000/12/12/103526-st-spyridon-the-wonderworker-and-bishop-of-tremithus

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Listen to the accounts of several miracles of St. Spyridon, recounted by Fr. Peter Shapiro, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9iWjfYTzBM

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After reading “Spyridon’s Shoes” by Christine Rogers, your family may want to pray the Akathist to St. Spyridon. Find it, as well as an after prayer, here: https://akathisttostspyridon.wordpress.com/

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Lenten Sundays Series: The Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt

This is the seventh in a series of posts that focuses on the Sundays of Great Lent (and Holy Week and Pascha). Each week we will share a little about that week’s focus, including related quotes from Church fathers and/or scriptures that can be helpful to our spiritual growth. We will share each blog early, to give you time to read it before that particular Sunday arrives. It is our hope that, by taking a few minutes to study these Sundays before the day arrives, we will be better prepared to partake in all that the Church has to offer us through this beautiful season of the year.

On this fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we focus on the life of St. Mary of Egypt. St. Mary was born in Egypt, left home at the age of 12, and spent the next 17 years taking advantage of men for her own physical pleasure. Not until she was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (for all the wrong reasons, but God works even through our wrong choices) did she begin to question the path she was taking. It was when she was unable to enter the church to venerate the Holy Cross that she realized something was wrong. The Theotokos herself helped Mary to understand the severity of her sins, and she repented. She repented so completely that she spent the rest of her days in the desert, fighting against her own fleshly desires and sins. God was with her there in the desert, and he showed His presence to her by providing for her needs and helping her to learn the scriptures and the ways of the Church even without another human there to teach her about them. This allowed Mary to grow more and more holy.

A holy monk, Zosimas, was the lone person she saw, and she did not see him until 47 years after she fled to the desert. They had only two encounters, both of which encouraged each of them. Zosimas was able to learn of Mary’s story, and Mary was able to receive Holy Communion at the hand of Zosimas right before she died. Each of these two people longed for holiness in their own life, and both were humbled by the other’s presence on their journey.

This humility is an interesting contrast to Mark 10:32-45, the Gospel reading for this Sunday. This Gospel reading reminds us of the squabbling disciples, who are fighting for greatness in this passage. It is interesting that the Church has chosen to offer us the opportunity to study the life of St. Mary, who fought her pride and humbled herself in the desert for most of her life; and then contrast it with the disciples’ desire to sit at Christ’s right hand in His kingdom. It is as though the Church is saying to each of us, “Here are two approaches to life in the Kingdom of God. Who will you choose to be like?” We all know who we should emulate, but repenting and humbling ourselves as completely as St. Mary did is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Yet here is her life, offered to us as we approach the end of Great Lent, encouraging us to continue to fight the good fight as she did; to abstain from our passions so completely that we learn from Christ Himself and find ourselves humbled when we are in the presence of even the humblest of fellow humans.

Holiness is not limited to those with a perfect background. Although God can certainly work in and through those who have always lived holy lives (as did Abba Zosimas), He also brings healing and holiness to those of us who repent completely and turn our focus away from the things of this earth and completely on Him (as He did in the life of St. Mary of Egypt). Glory to God who embraces us as we struggle and meets us in that place!

In you the image was preserved with exactness, O Mother;

For taking up your cross, you did follow Christ,

And by your deeds you did teach us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away,

but to attend to the soul since it is immortal.

Wherefore, O righteous Mary, your spirit rejoices with the Angels.

 

St. Mary of Egypt, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are a few quotes from and about St. Mary of Egypt, as well as a handful of ideas of ways to help you and your family learn from her life:

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“Let us say something about the thorns. Blessed Mary of Egypt was twelve years old when she fell into the hands of the devil. She lived in sin day and night. But the merciful God enlightened her and she abandoned the world and went into the desert. There she led a hermit’s life for forty years. She was cleansed and became like an angel. God wished to give her rest, so He sent the holy ascetic Zosimas to hear her confession and to give her holy communion. Then He received her holy soul into paradise, where she rejoices with the angels. If there is anyone here like Blessed Mary, let him immediately weep and repent, now that he has time, and let him be assured that he will be saved as was Blessed Mary.” ~ St. Kosmos Aitolos

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“Believe me, Abba Zosimas, I spent seventeen years in this wilderness, fighting wild beasts: mad desires and passions. When I began to eat bread, I thought of the meat and fish which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also missed the wine that I loved so much when I was in the world, while here I did not even have water. I suffered from thirst and hunger… Weeping and striking myself on the breast, I remembered the vow I had made. At last I beheld a radiant Light shining on me from everywhere. After a violent tempest, a lasting calm ensued.” ~ St. Mary of Egypt

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“…A fire seemed to burn within me, awakening in me the desire for embraces. Then I would throw myself to the ground and water it with my tears. I seemed to see the Most Holy Virgin before me, and She seemed to threaten me for not keeping my vow. I lay face downward day and night upon the ground, and would not get up until that blessed Light encircled me, dispelling the evil thoughts that troubled me. Thus I lived in this wilderness for the first seventeen years. Darkness after darkness, misery after misery stood about me, a sinner. But from that time until now the Mother of God helps me in everything.” ~ St. Mary of Egypt

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“For the Lord’s sake, pray for me and remember my wretchedness.” ~ St. Mary of Egypt, to Elder Zosimas

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To St. Mary of Egypt: “With all eagerness and love thou didst run to Christ, abandoning thy former way of sin. And being nourished in the untrodden wilderness, thou didst chastely fulfill His divine commandments.” ~ The Great Canon of St. Andrew

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“On this day we know that the worst, the lowliest, the filthiest, the most addicted, the most impassioned, the most possessed, by faith and grace through that same Christ, by the intercessions of His mother and all the saints, can enter into that same glory. And Mary of Egypt tells us that. She shows us that. And then she begins herself to intercede for us poor sinners.” ~ Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his meditation that offers the opportunity to consider two Marys, the Theotokos and St. Mary of Egypt.  https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/st_mary_of_egypt

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Find a simple meditation about the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, as well as discussion and activity suggestions for a family learning time here: https://www.goarch.org/documents/32058/2618758/familygospellesson_maryofegypt.pdf/e09632ba-fda2-46ed-a631-f3e030c16f98

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Find some activities you can do with your children to help them learn about St. Mary of Egypt, here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/church-history/3-5-years-old/mary-egypt

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Don’t miss this wonderful article that applies the life of St. Mary of Egypt with 5 important “takeaways” for modern life: http://www.pravmir.com/5-things-still-learn-st-mary-egypt/

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