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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 6

Sermon 6 on the New Testament

[LVI. Ben.]

On the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9, etc. to the Competentes.

1. The blessed Apostle, to show that those times when it should come to pass that all the nations should believe in Christ had been foretold by the Prophets, produced this testimony where it is written, And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved. For before time the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth was called upon among the Israelites only; the rest of the nations called upon dumb and deaf idols, by whom they were not heard, or by devils, by whom they were heard to their harm. But when the fullness of time came, that was fulfilled which had been foretold, And it shall be, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. Moreover, because the Jews, even those who believed in Christ, grudged the Gospel to the Gentiles, and said that the Gospel ought not to be preached to them who were not circumcised; because against these the Apostle Paul alleged this testimony, And it shall be, that whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord, shall be saved; he immediately subjoined, to convince those who were unwilling that the Gospel should be preached to the Gentiles, the words, But how shall they call upon Him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? Or how shall they hear without a preacher? Or how shall they preach except they be sent? Because then he said, how shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? you have not first learned the Lord's Prayer, and after that the Creed; but first the Creed, where ye might know what to believe, and afterwards the Prayer, where ye might know whom to call upon. The Creed then has respect to the faith, the Lord's Prayer to prayer; because it is he who believes, that is heard when he calls.

2. But many ask for what they ought not to ask, not knowing what is expedient for them. Two things therefore must he that prays beware of; that he ask not what he ought not; and that he ask not from whom he ought not. From the devil, from idols, from evil spirits, must nothing be asked. From the Lord our God Jesus Christ, God the Father of Prophets, and Apostles, and Martyrs, from the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from God who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all things in them, from Him must we ask whatsoever we have to ask. But we must beware that we ask not of Him that which we ought not to ask. If because we ought to ask for life, you ask it of dumb and deaf idols, what does it profit you? So if from God the Father, who is in heaven, you wish for the death of your enemies, what does it profit you? Have you not heard or read in the Psalm, in which the damnable end of the traitor Judas is foretold, how the prophecy spoke of him, Let his prayer be turned into sin? If then you rise up, and prayest for evil on your enemies, your prayer will be turned into sin.

3. You have read in the Holy Psalms, how that he who speaks in them imprecates, as it would seem, many curses upon his enemies. And surely, one may say, he who speaks in the Psalms is a righteous man; wherefore then does he so wish evil upon his enemies? He does not wish, but he foresees, it is a prophecy of one who is telling things to come, not a vow of malediction; for the prophets knew by the Spirit to whom evil was appointed to happen, and to whom good; and by prophecy they spoke as if they wished for what they did foresee. But how can you know whether he for whom today you are asking evil, may not tomorrow be a better man than yourself? But you will say, I know him to be a wicked man. Well: you must know that you are wicked too. Although it may be you take upon yourself to judge of another's heart what you do not know; but as for your own self you know that you are wicked. Do you not hear the Apostle saying, Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief? Now when the Apostle Paul persecuted the Christians, binding them wherever he found them, and drew them to the Chief Priests to be questioned and punished, what think ye, brethren, did the Church pray against him, or for him? Surely the Church of God which had learned instruction from her Lord, who said as He hung upon the Cross, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, so prayed for Paul (or rather as yet Saul), that that might be wrought in him which was wrought. For in that he says, But I was unknown by face to the churches of Judæa which are in Christ: only they heard that he who persecuted us in times past, now preaches the faith which once he destroyed; and they magnified God in me; why did they magnify God, but because they asked this of God, before it came to pass?

4. Our Lord then first of all cut off much speaking, that you might not bring a multitude of words unto God, as though by your many words you would teach Him. Therefore when you pray you have need of piety, not of wordiness. For your Father knows what is needful for you, before ye ask Him. Be loth then to use many words, for He knows what is needful for you. But lest perhaps any should say here, If He know what is needful for us, why should we use so much as a few words? Why should we pray at all? He knows Himself; let Him then give what He knows to be needful for us. Yes, but it is His will that you should pray, that He may give to your longings, that His gifts may not be lightly esteemed; seeing He has Himself formed this longing desire in us. The words therefore which our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us in His prayer, are the rule and standard of our desires. You may not ask for anything but what is written there.

5. Do ye therefore say, says he, Our Father, which art in heaven. Where ye see you have begun to have God for your Father. You will have Him, when you are new born. Although even now before you are born, you have been conceived of His seed, as being on the eve of being brought forth in the font, the womb as it were of the Church. Our Father, which art in heaven. Remember then, that you have a Father in heaven. Remember that you were born of your father Adam unto death, that you are to be born anew of God the Father unto life. And what ye say, say in your hearts. Only let there be the earnest affection of prayer, and there will be the effectual answer of Him who hears prayer. Hallowed be your Name. Why do you ask, that God's Name may be hallowed? It is holy. Why then do you ask for that which is already holy? And then when you ask that His Name may be hallowed, do you not as it were pray to Him for Him, and not for yourself? No. Understand it aright, and it is for your own self you ask. For this you ask, that what is always in itself holy, may be hallowed in you. What is be hallowed? Be accounted holy, be not despised. So then you see, that the good you wish, you wish for your own self. For if you despise the Name of God, for yourself it will be ill, and not for God.

6. Your kingdom come. To whom do we speak? And will not God's kingdom come, if we ask it not. For of that kingdom do we speak which will be after the end of the world. For God has a kingdom always; neither is He ever without a kingdom, whom the whole creation serves. But what kingdom then do you wish for? That of which it is written in the Gospel, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom which is prepared for you from the beginning of the world. Lo here is the kingdom whereof we say, Your kingdom come. We pray that it may come in us; we pray that we may be found in it. For come it certainly will; but what will it profit you, if it shall find you at the left hand? Therefore, here again it is for your own self that you wish well; for yourself you pray. This it is that you long for; this desire in your prayer, that you may so live, that you may have a part in the kingdom of God, which is to be given to all saints. Therefore when you say, Your kingdom come, you pray for yourself, that you may live well. Let us have part in Your kingdom: let that come even to us, which is to come to Your saints and righteous ones.

7. Your will be done. What! If you say not this, will not God do His will? Remember what you have repeated in the Creed, I believe in God the Father Almighty. If He be Almighty, why do you pray that His will may be done? What is this then, Your will be done? May it be done in me, that I may not resist Your will. Therefore here again it is for yourself you pray, and not for God. For the will of God will be done in you, though it be not done by you. For both in them to whom He shall say, Come, you blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world; shall the will of God be done, that the saints and righteous may receive the kingdom; and in them to whom He shall say, Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, shall the will of God be done, that the wicked may be condemned to everlasting fire. That His will may be done by you is another thing. It is not then without a cause, but that it may be well with you, that you dost pray that His will may be done in you. But whether it be well or ill with you, it will still be done in you: but O that it may be done by you also. Why do I say then, Your will be done in heaven and in earth, and do not say, Your will be done by heaven and earth? Because what is done by you, He Himself does in you. Never is anything done by you which He Himself does not in you. Sometimes, indeed, He does in you what is not done by you; but never is anything done by you, if He do it not in you.

8. But what is in heaven and in earth, or, as in heaven so in earth? The Angels do Your will; may we do it also. Your will be done as in heaven so in earth. The mind is heaven, the flesh is earth. When you say (if so be you do say it) with the Apostle, With my mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin; the will of God is done in heaven, but not yet in earth. But when the flesh shall be in harmony with the mind, and death shall be swallowed up in victory, so that no carnal desires shall remain for the mind to be in conflict with, when strife in the earth shall have passed away, the war of the heart be over, and that be gone by which is spoken, the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; so that you cannot do the things that you would; when this war, I say, shall be over, and all concupiscence shall have been changed into charity, nothing shall remain in the body to oppose the spirit, nothing to be tamed, nothing to be bridled, nothing to be trodden down; but the whole shall go on through concord unto righteousness, and the will of God will be done in heaven and in earth. Your will be done in heaven and in earth. We wish for perfection, when we pray for this. Your will be done as in heaven so in earth. In the Church the spiritual are heaven, the carnal are earth. So then, Your will be done as in heaven so in earth; that as the spiritual do serve You, so the carnal being reformed may serve You also. Your will be done as in heaven so in earth. There is yet another very spiritual meaning of it. For we are admonished to pray for our enemies. The Church is heaven, the enemies of the Church are earth. What then is, Your will be done as in heaven so in earth? May our enemies believe, as we also believe in You! May they become friends, and end their enmities! They are earth, therefore are they against us; may they become heaven, and they will be with us.

9. Give us this day our daily bread. Now here it is manifest, that it is for ourselves we pray. When you say, Hallowed be Your Name, it requires explanation how it is that it is for yourself you pray, not for God. When you say, Your will be done; here again is there need of explanation, lest you think that you are wishing well to God in this prayer, that His will may be done, and not rather that you are praying for yourself. When you say, Your kingdom come; this again must be explained, lest you think that you are wishing well to God in this prayer that He may reign. But from this place and onwards to the end of the Prayer, it is plain that we are praying to God for our own selves. When you say, Give us this day our daily bread, you profess yourself to be God's beggar. But be not ashamed at this; how rich soever any man be on earth, he is still God's beggar. The beggar takes his stand before the rich man's house; but the rich man himself stands before the door of the great rich One. Petition is made to him, and he makes his petition. If he were not in need, he would not knock at the ears of God in prayer. And what does the rich man need? I am bold to say, the rich man needs even daily bread. For how is it that he has abundance of all things? Whence but because God has given it him? What should he have, if God withdrew His hand? Have not many laid down to sleep in wealth, and risen up in beggary? And that he does not want, is due to God's mercy, not to his own power.

10. But this bread, Dearly beloved, by which our body is filled, by which the flesh is recruited day by day; this bread, I say, God gives not to those only who praise, but to those also who blaspheme Him; Who makes His sun to rise upon the evil and on the good, and sends rain upon the just and on the unjust. Thou praisest Him, and He feeds you; you blaspheme Him, He feeds you. He waits for you to repent; but if you will not change yourself, He will condemn you. Because then both good and bad receive this bread from God, do you think there is no other bread for which the children ask, of which the Lord said in the Gospel, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs? Yes, surely there is. What then is that bread? And why is it called daily? Because this is necessary as the other; for without it we cannot live; without bread we cannot live. It is shamelessness to ask for wealth from God; it is no shamelessness to ask for daily bread. That which ministers to pride is one thing, that which ministers to life another. Nevertheless, because this bread which may be seen and handled, is given both to the good and bad; there is a daily bread, for which the children pray. That is the word of God, which is dealt out to us day by day. Our bread is daily bread; and by it live not our bodies, but our souls. It is necessary for us who are even now labourers in the vineyard—it is our food, not our hire. For he that hires the labourer into the vineyard owes him two things; food, that he faint not, and his hire, wherewith he may rejoice. Our daily food then in this earth is the word of God, which is dealt out always in the Churches: our hire after labour is called eternal life. Again, if by this our daily bread you understand what the faithful receive, what you shall receive, when you have been baptized, it is with good reason that we ask and say, Give us this day our daily bread; that we may live in such sort, as that we be not separated from the Holy Altar.

11. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Touching this petition again we need no explanation, that it is for ourselves that we pray. For we beg that our debts may be forgiven us. For debtors are we, not in money, but in sins. You are saying perchance at this moment, And you too. We answer, Yes, we too. What, you Holy Bishops, are you debtors? Yes, we are debtors too. What you! My Lord. Be it far from you, do not yourself this wrong. I do myself no wrong, but I say the truth; we are debtors: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. We have been baptized, and yet are we debtors. Not that anything then remained, which was not remitted to us in Baptism, but because in our lives we are contracting ever what needs daily forgiveness. They who are baptized, and immediately depart out of this life, come up from the font without any debt; without any debt they leave the world. But they who are baptized and are still kept in this life, contract defilements by reason of their mortal frailty, by which though the ship be not sunk, yet have they need of recourse to the pump. For otherwise little by little will that enter in by which the whole ship will be sunk. And to offer this prayer, is to have recourse to the pump. But we ought not only to pray, but to do alms also, because when the pump is used to prevent the ship from sinking, both the voices and hands are at work. Now we are at work with our voices, when we say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. And we are at work with our hands when we do this, Break your bread to the hungry, and bring the houseless poor into your house. Shut up alms in the heart of a poor man, and it shall intercede for you unto the Lord.

12. Although therefore all our sins were forgiven in the laver of regeneration, we should be driven into great straits, if there were not given to us the daily cleansing of the Holy Prayer. Alms and prayers purge away sins; only let not such sins be committed, for which we must necessarily be separated from our daily Bread; avoid we all such debts to which a severe and certain condemnation is due. Call not yourselves righteous, as though ye had no cause to say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Though you abstain from idolatry, from the consolations of astrologers, from the cures of enchanters, though ye abstain from the seductions of heretics, from the divisions of schismatics; though ye abstain from murders, from adulteries and fornications, from thefts and plunderings, from false witnessings, and all such other sins which I do not name, as have a ruinous consequence, for which it is necessary that the sinner be cut off from the altar, and be so bound in earth, as to be bound in heaven, to his great and deadly danger, unless again he be so loosed in earth, as to be loosed in heaven; yet after all these are excepted, still there is no want of occasions whereby a man may sin. A man sins in seeing with pleasure what he ought not to see. Yet who can hold in the quickness of the eye? For from this the eye is said to have received its very name, from its quickness. Who can restrain the ear or eye? The eyes may be shut when you will, and are shut in a moment, but the ears you can only with an effort close: you must raise the hand and reach them, and if any one hold your hand, they are kept open, nor can you close them against reviling, impure, or flattering, and seducing words. And when you hear any things you ought not to hear, though you do it not, do you not sin with the ear? For you hear something that is bad with pleasure? How great sins does the deadly tongue commit! Yea, sometimes sins of such a nature, that a man is separated from the altar for them. To the tongue pertains the whole matter of blasphemies, and many idle words again are spoken, which are not convenient. But let the hand do nothing wrong, let the feet run not to any evil, nor the eye be directed to immodesty; let not the ear be open with pleasure to filthy talk; nor the tongue move to indecent speech; yet tell me, who can restrain the thoughts? How often do we pray, my brethren, and our thoughts are elsewhere, as though we forgot before whom we are standing, or before whom we are prostrating ourselves! If all these things be collected together against us, will they not therefore not overwhelm us, because they are small faults? What matter is it whether lead or sand overwhelm us? The lead is all one mass, the sand is small grains, but by their great number they overwhelm you. So your sins are small. Do you see not how the rivers are filled, and the lands are wasted by small drops? They are small, but they are many.

13. Let us therefore say every day; and say it in sincerity of heart, and do what we say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. It is an engagement, a covenant, an agreement that we make with God. The Lord your God says to you, Forgive, and I will forgive. You have not forgiven; you retain your sins against yourself, not I. I pray you, my dearly beloved children, since I know what is expedient for you in the Lord's Prayer, and most of all in that sentence of it, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors; hear me. You are about to be baptized, forgive everything; whatsoever any man have in his heart against any other, let him from his heart forgive it. So enter in, and be sure, that all your sins which you have contracted, whether from your birth of your parents after Adam with original sin, for which sins' sake ye run with babes to the Saviour's grace, or whatever after sins you have contracted in your lives, by word, or deed, or thought, all are forgiven; and you will go out of the water as from before the presence of your Lord, with the sure discharge of all debts.

14. Now because by reason of those daily sins of which I have spoken, it is necessary for you to say, in that daily prayer of cleansing as it were, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors; what will you do? You have enemies. For who can live on this earth without them? Take heed to yourselves, love them. In no way can your enemy so hurt you by his violence, as you hurt yourself if you love him not. For he may injure your estate, or flocks, or house, or your man-servant, or your maid-servant, or your son, or your wife; or at most, if such power be given him, your body. But can he injure your soul, as you can yourself? Reach forward, dearly beloved, I beseech you, to this perfection. But have I given you this power? He only has given it to whom you say, Your will be done as in heaven so in earth. Yet let it not seem impossible to you. I know, I have known by experience, that there are Christian men who do love their enemies. If it seem to you impossible, you will not do it. Believe then first that it can be done, and pray that the will of God may be done in you. For what good can your neighbour's ill do you? If he had no ill, he would not even be your enemy. Wish him well then, that he may end his ill, and he will be your enemy no longer. For it is not the human nature in him that is at enmity with you, but his sin. Is he therefore your enemy, because he has a soul and body? In this he is as you are: you have a soul, and so has he: you have a body, and so has he. He is of the same substance as you are; you were made both out of the same earth, and quickened by the same Lord. In all this he is as you are. Acknowledge in him then your brother. The first pair, Adam and Eve, were our parents; the one our father, the other our mother; and therefore we are brethren. But let us leave the consideration of our first origin. God is our Father, the Church our Mother, and therefore are we brethren. But you will say, my enemy is a heathen, a Jew, a heretic, of whom I spoke some time ago on the words, Your will be done as in heaven so in earth. O Church, your enemy is the heathen, the Jew, the heretic; he is the earth. If you are heaven, call on your Father which is in heaven, and pray for your enemies: for so was Saul an enemy of the Church; thus was prayer made for him, and he became her friend. He not only ceased from being her persecutor, but he laboured to be her helper. And yet, to say the truth, prayer was made against him; but against his malice, not against his nature. So let your prayer be against the malice of your enemy, that it may die, and he may live. For if your enemy were dead, you have lost it might seem an enemy, yet have you not found a friend. But if his malice die, you have at once lost an enemy and found a friend.

15. But still you are saying, Who can do, who has ever done this? May God bring it to effect in your hearts! I know as well as you, there are but few who do it; great men are they and spiritual who do so. Are all the faithful in the Church who approach the altar, and take the Body and Blood of Christ, are they all such? And yet they all say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. What, if God should answer them, Why do ye ask me to do what I have promised, when you do not what I have commanded? What have I promised? To forgive your debts. What have I commanded? That ye also forgive your debtors. How can you do this, if you do not love your enemies? What then must we do, brethren? Is the flock of Christ reduced to such a scanty number? If they only ought to say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors, who love their enemies; I know not what to do, I know not what to say. For must I say to you, If you do not love your enemies, do not pray; I dare not say so; yea, pray rather that you may love them. But must I say to you, If you do not love your enemies, say not in the Lord's Prayer, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors? Suppose that I were to say, Do not use these words. If you do not, your debts are not forgiven; and if you do use them, and do not act thereafter, they are not forgiven. In order therefore that they may be forgiven, you must both use the prayer, and do thereafter.

16. I see some ground on which I may comfort not some few only, but the multitude of Christians: and I know that you are longing to hear it. Christ has said, Forgive, that you may be forgiven. And what do ye say in the Prayer which we have now been discussing? Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. So, Lord, forgive, as we forgive. This you say, O Father, which art in heaven, so forgive our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. For this ye ought to do, and if you do it not, you will perish. When your enemy asks pardon, at once forgive him. And is this much for you to do? Though it were much for you to love your enemy when violent against you, is it much to love a man who is a supplicant before you? What have you to say? He was before violent, and then you hated him. I had rather you had not hated him even then: I had rather then when you were suffering from his violence, you had remembered the Lord, saying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. I would have then much wished that even at that time when your enemy was violent against you, you had had regard to the Lord your God speaking thus. But perhaps you will say, He did it, but then He did it as being the Lord, as the Christ, as the Son of God, as the Only-Begotten, as the Word made flesh. But what can I, an infirm and sinful man, do? If your Lord be too high an example for you, turn your thoughts upon your fellow-servant. The holy Stephen was being stoned, and as they stoned him, on bended knees did he pray for his enemies, and say, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. They were casting stones, not asking pardon, yet did he pray for them. I would you were like him; reach forth. Why are you for ever trailing your heart along the earth? Hear, Lift up your heart, reach forward, love your enemies. If you can not love him in his violence, love him at least when he asks pardon. Love the man who says to you, Brother, I have sinned, forgive me. If you then forgive him not, I say not merely, that you dost blot this prayer out of your heart, but you shall be blotted yourself out of the book of God.

17. But if you then at least forgive him, or let go hatred from your heart, it is hatred from the heart I bid you forego, and not proper discipline. What if one who asks my pardon, be one who ought to be chastised by me! Do what you will, for I suppose that you love your child even when you chastise him. Thou regardest not his cries under the rod, because you are reserving for him his inheritance. This I say then, that you forego from your heart all hatred, when your enemy asks pardon of you. But perhaps you will say, he is playing false, he is pretending. O you judge of another's heart, tell me your own father's thoughts, tell me your own thoughts yesterday. He asks and petitions for pardon; forgive, by all means forgive him. If you will not forgive him, it is yourself you hurt, not him, for he knows what he has to do. You are not willing to forgive your own fellow-servant; he will go then to your Lord, and say to Him, Lord, I have prayed my fellow-servant to forgive me, and he would not; do Thou forgive me. Hath not the Lord power to release his servant's debts? So he, having obtained pardon from his Lord, returns loosed, while you remain bound. How bound? The time of prayer will come, the time must come for you to say, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors; and the Lord will answer you, Thou wicked servant, when you owed Me so great a debt, you asked Me, and I forgave you; should not you also have had compassion on your fellow-servant, even as I had pity on you? These words are out of the Gospel, not of my own heart. But if on being asked, you shall forgive him who begs for pardon, then you can say this prayer. And if you have not as yet the strength to love him in his violence, still you may offer this prayer, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Let us pass on to the rest.

18. And lead us not into temptation. Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors, we say because of past sins, which we cannot undo, that they should not have been done. You can labour not to do what you have done before, but how can you bring about, that that which you have done should not be done? As regards those things which have been done already, that sentence of the prayer is your help, Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. As regards those into which you may fall, what will you do? Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, that is, from temptation itself.

19. Now these three first petitions, Hallowed be Your Name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done as in heaven so in earth, these three regard the life eternal, for God's Name ought to be hallowed in us always, we ought to be in His kingdom always, we ought to do His will always. This will be to all eternity. But daily bread is necessary now. All the rest that we pray for from this article, regards the necessities of the present life. Daily bread is necessary in this life; the forgiveness of our debts is necessary in this life. For when we shall arrive at the other life, there will be an end of all debts. In this life there is temptation, in this life the sailing is dangerous, in this life something is ever stealing its way in through the chinks of our frailties, which must be pumped out. But when we shall be made equal to the Angels of God; no more need to say and pray to God to forgive us our debts, when there will be none. Here then is the daily bread; here the prayer that our debts may be forgiven; here that we enter not into temptation; for in that life temptation does not enter; here that we may be delivered from evil; for in that life there will be no evil, but eternal and abiding good.

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Source. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/160306.htm>.

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