Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who are the Saint Thomas Christians? I see this name utilised on the web sites of various other churches in St. Thomas Christians in Santa Cruz, Mar Thomas Orthodox in Fresno, in Tennessee, Ohio, England, etc.

2 . Ecumenism- is it a blessing or a curse? Why are not all Eastern Orthodox Churches included in ecumenical events, Unity Week Services?

3 . When I was a teenager, my parents forced me to have an abortion. I was thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church for having an abortion. Is there any hope for me? Can I become an Eastern Catholic? Can I receive the Sacraments?

4. I saw you on your television program ("The Eastern Catholic Good News"). Can I receive the Sacraments, even though I have been divorced for over forty years? I was told l had to go back to my husband or would be excommunicated if I divorced by husband who used to beat me and the kids. I haven't been back to church since. Can you help me?

5 . How come your priests can marry and Roman Catholic priests cannot?

6 . Why do you not refer to Mary as the "Mother of God?"

7 . Protestants believe in the Bible and it is the only authority in the Church? Don't you use Holy Tradition? Aren't you a cult not believing in the Bible alone?

8 . Which Church calendar do you use and why?

9 . Why do you use Icons and the Assyrian Church of the East does not?

Archbishop Mikhael's Replies

1. Who are the Saint Thomas Christians? I see this name utilised on the web sites of various other churches in St. Thomas Christians in Santa Cruz, Mar Thomas Orthodox in Fresno, in Tennessee, Ohio, England, etc.
The Church in India was founded by Saint Thomas (Mar Thoma) the Apostle in 52 A.D. He was also martyred in India in 72 A.D. From India, the Church grew and expanded into Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan (see the book: The Nestorian Missionary Enterprise- a Church on Fire by Dr. John Stewart, a Scottish Presbyterian Minister).

Although the Church in India was and is an Apostolic Church (founded by one of the 12 Holy Apostles), it became affiliated with the Church of the East in Baghdad and under its Catholicos. This church, throughout its long history, remained a Patriarchal Church not Papal (under the Roman Catholic Church). Historically, the Church of the East in India is the true and only descendant of “St. Thomas Christians.”

As time went on, other Orthodox churches came to India, the Syrian Orthodox (Monophysite or Jacobite), the Antiochian Orthodox, etc. to try and convert the indigenous Eastern Catholic (Chaldean-Syrian) Christians. They all eventually tried to claim eventually to be “St. Thomas Christians.

When the Portuguese occupied India, they attempted to either force the conversion of these patriarchal Christians to the Church of Rome or persecute them out of existence. Several localities such as Malabar and Malabarese were forced into union and were and referred to as Uniate. They began also to “assume” the title of St. Thomas Christians as well as other Roman Catholic Uniate Rites in India.

When you review the web sites of many of those claiming to be “St. Thomas Christians” you shall note that their “apostolic succession” is from the Old Catholic Church. They do so in order to appear to appear to be “legitimate” and to disassociate themselves from their “Old Catholic” origins and reputation (with usually lack a minimum moral standards). The most current claimant utilises the reference of “Mar Thoma Orthodox” as well as being “Syrian Orthodox.” The two are incongruous. The term “Orthodox does not belong with the historic reference “Mar Thoma.” Their consecration comes from the “Patriarch of Santa Cruz, California.” A married patriarch is a very modern innovation but typical Old Catholic innovation. Our chancellor visited their cathedral in Fresno to see it closed down in June, 2004 with a “for sale” posted. Their web site still lists them as holding services???

The only See in India which ever had the office and reference of a Patriarch is the Roman Catholic Latin Rite Patriarch of Goa. The highest-ranking prelate in India (patriarchal) has always been the Chaldean-Syrian Church with its Metropolitan with Apiscopas (Vicar-Bishops) to assist the Metropolitan.

Many of these “new” St. Thomas Christians claim to be under a “patriarch.” However, in Orthodoxy, there have been no new patriarchs created in over 300+ years. In order to be a canonical patriarch, all the historic patriarchs must agree to recognise the new See (The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, The Patriarch of Antioch, the Patriarch of Alexandria, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Serbia, Russia, etc.) There are even new splinter Episcopalian groups which now claim the title of “Patriarch” such as the Charismatic Episcopal Church whose Archbishop now utilises the reference of “The Office of the Patriarch.” The highest office in the Anglican Communion is the “Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate”. There was only one original Patriarch of the West which is The See of Rome (The Roman Catholic Pope). He alone is the only Patriarch for all Western Christians.

The Church of the East and the Uniate “St. Thomas Christians” are eastern rite in terms of liturgy and traditions. There are no Western Rite St. Thomas Christians. They utilise the Holy Liturgies of Mar Mari and Adhai, Mar Theodorous, and Mar Nestorius.

Although we are a daughter church from the Metropolitan in India, we do not utilise the reference of Saint Thomas Christians in order to avoid confusion among the faithful in Christ. We utilise the reference Eastern Catholic or Chaldean-Syrian Catholics.

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2. Ecumenism- is it a blessing or a curse? Why are not all Eastern Orthodox Churches included in ecumenical events, Unity Week Services?

In this Metropolitan's opinion, true ecumenism within the United States started by His Holiness Pope John XXIII and August Cardinal Bea is dead!

We now have ecumenism by church politics, church alliances, and prejudice. The protestant practise of evaluating a "successive or anointed pastor" by the size of his church membership roster and hence determines his status within protestant denominational and other clergy meetings has filtered into and been adopted by modern day historical and sacramental church world. We call this "mega church" ecumenism." The ecclesiastical politics of gossip, rumours, innuendo, half truths, guilt by association has been resurrected. Even now, the Byzantine (Uniate) clergy which are supposed to bring all Eastern Christians back to the Roman Catholic Church are actively engaging in outright gossip, lies, rumours, etc.

We were the first Metropolitan to ever celebrate the Holy Liturgy at Lourdes Basilica. Whenever we travelled into our homeland in Germany, and throughout Europe (England, France, Spain, Belgium, Denrnark, Sweden, Switzerland), any Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church was opened unto us to celebrate the Holy Liturgy as well as for ordinations.

The Blessing: Ecumenism, after the Vatican Council II, was the ecclesiastical mantra and buzz word for nearly twenty years. There was indeed a period of time when true and genuine ecumenism existed. Mutual respect and co-operation flourished.

The Curse: But when the western clergy began to discover that their parishioners liked what the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches had to offer (i.e.: deep spirituality, meaningful Liturgies, sound historical teachings (not the social gospel or humanism), a married priesthood whose priests understood what married couples were going through, etc). the atmosphere began to change. Why? Because where parishioners go, there goes their money. Whether in church politics or secular politics, the old proverb still works: follow the money trail. The 'irrational fear" of loosing parishioners to another church as well as the "fear of feeling threatened" now are the under current of modern ecumenism within the United States.

What has been occurring and appears to continue to occur, within the United States, is ecumenism by church politics. Once certain alliances had occurred, other Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches began to be excluded.

For example, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II of the Roman Catholic Church signed an agreement with the Assyrian Church of the East, under the Schismatic Patriarch, His Holiness, Mar Dinkha and gave this church the designation of "Sister Church" Prior to this agreement, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II also received at the Vatican, His Holiness, Patriarch Mar Adhai II, the historic Patriarch of Baghdad numerous occasions. Now, the many Assyrians who recognised His Holiness, Mar Adhai II, as the Patriarch of Baghdad where not longer "acceptable" or welcomed to ecumenical events. His Holiness, Patriarch Mar Adhai II also received at the Vatican even after this agreement was signed. His Holiness, Patriarch Mar Adhai II was and is the Patriarch who utilises and maintains the historic (Old Calendar) traditions of the Church. He alone resides within the Patriarchal See.

The ecclesiastical politics of the Vatican are quite obvious and quite sad. The Vatican believes, as it did prior to the Great Schism of 1054 A. D., that Rome has the sole authority to approve and to recognise Patriarchal elections. Hence, both Patriarchs have been received at the Vatican. Only the Holy Synod of Bishops of each Patriarchal See has the right to elect their own patriarch; they do not need the approval of any other patriarch.

His Holiness, Patriarch Mar Dinkha held a schismatic election in England, where those clergy who wanted to follow the New Calendar traditions, elected him their Patriarch.

Unfortunately, the churches which joined Patriarch Mar Dinkha had the financial resources of the United States to accomplish their goals. The churches who remained loyal to His Holiness, Patriarch Mar Adhai II, many times lacked finances. Even His Grace, Metropolitan Dr. Mar Aprem of the Chaldean-Syrian Church of the East (an Apostolic Church founded by Saint Thomas the Apostle in India) was forced to submit to the Patriarchate of Mar Dinkha. In such a poor country as India, the Metropolitan could not continue to incur increasing and overwhelming financial debts needed to respond to the numerous law suits filed by Patriarch Mar Dinkha in the Indian Courts to seize the Chaldean-Syrian Church property and assets. Further, there is rivalry and a very bad case of inverse snobbery by the Assyrian Clergy towards the highly educated clergy of the Chaldean-Syrian clergy.

We, as an autocephaleous jurisdiction, have always recognised His Holiness, Patriarch Mar Adhai as the historic and valid Patriarch. Due to the secular politics of Iraq very little communication reaches His Holiness Patriarch Mar Adhai II. There have been clergy from Patriarch Mar Dinkha's church who have visited us, in our home with the sole purpose of forcing this jurisdiction to submit to the Patriarchate of Mar Dinkha. We have steadfastly refused. We have endured threats of violence, slander, and libel by the Assyrian Church of the East under Mar Dinkha in 1977, 1979, 1982, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1995, and even currently as in August and September 2000.

The Russian and the Greek Orthodox Churches, within the United States, created a "mutual admiration society" for themselves and other Orthodox Churches they desired to approve. They established "SCOBA, the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America. In drawing up their Bylaws, SCOBA members established what qualifications they would accept for membership within their closed organisation.

The Russian Orthodox Church in Exile has never been admitted to SCOBA, as well as any other Orthodox Synod (the Free Serbian Orthodox Church) who opposed communist dominated patriarchs were never admitted or any Old Calendar churches were never admitted. It should be noted that the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile is one of the wealthiest of all the Russian Churches. They are not usually attacked by SCOBA members as are other smaller Orthodox Churches (in terms of finances and membership). Further, the Russian Church in Exile does not desire to affiliate with these other Orthodox Churches, who in their view have compromised their Orthodoxy to be friendly with Communist governments and compromising to Rome.

Other historic churches are not apart of S.C.O.B.A.: the Patriarch of Alexandria, the Patriarch of Syria, the Patriarch of Ethiopia, the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchs, as well as other all historic churches can not be members because they do not have the correct "ecclesiastical pedigree" for SCOBA members. The implication is that if you are not a part of or recognised by S.C.O.B.A. you obviously must not be valid. Your obviously must not be "canonical." Western churchmen are still quite ignorant of the complexities of the Eastern Christian Churches. The worst offender have been the "ecumenical officers of the Roman Catholic dioceses" and the Byzantine (Uniate) Clergy.

Instead of trying to bring all the Eastern Christian traditions, the hierarchies keep creating new barriers to the Church Unity which Our Lord Jesus Christ had prayed for.

However, within Europe, there has been and is a different ecumenical mentality. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Christian bishops actually co-operate and seek areas where they can mutually assist each other. They do not slander nor spread gossip about other churches. Ecumenism is based upon mutual respect as bishops who hold the Apostolic Succession within historical churches and based upon inter-personal ecclesiastical relationships, and mutual assistance over time.

We, as a jurisdiction, have and shall continue to pursue true ecumenism and work and pray for the Unity in the Body of Christ. We shall attempt to dwell and minister in the Agape Love of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Our policy is to assist and to be a blessing to any historic church, their clergy, and their parishioners, whenever possible. However, if the clergy of these churches desire to play church politics and inflict injury or harm upon our church, clergy or laity, then we shall respond as needed and as appropriate. We shall, as Holy Scripture stipulates, shake the dust off of our sandals and go on. In the meantime, we shall pray and work for the Unity within the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Metropolitan has been and still is driven by need to save souls, souls, souls for the Kingdom of God!

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3. When I was a teenager, my parents forced me to have an abortion. I was thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church for having an abortion. Is there any hope for me? Can I become an Eastern Catholic? Can I receive the Sacraments?

The priest involved in throwing you out of the Church was totally wrong. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not come for the well, but came for those in need.

From your letter and telephone conversation, you mentioned that you wanted to be forgiven and restored to the Sacraments which you have not received in over twenty years. You have obviously suffered enough. All you have to do is go to Holy Confession and you can receive the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments). You are welcomed to become an Eastern Catholic anytime. Just make an appointment to see one of our priests or this Metropolitan for basic instructions.

To complete your spiritual healing through the forgiveness of Our Lord Jesus Christ, you need to forgive the priest who threw you out of the Roman Catholic Church, your parents, as well as yourself. Then the burdens you have been carrying for over twenty years shall finally be lifted from your shoulders. You were never called to carry such heavy burdens. You need to cast them onto Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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4. I saw you on your television program ("The Eastern Catholic Good News"). Can I receive the Sacraments, even though I have been divorced for over forty years? I was told l had to go back to my husband or would be excommunicated if I divorced by husband who used to beat me and the kids. I haven't been back to church since. Can you help me?

Divorce is not the unforgivable sin as we stated in our telecast on divorce and remarriage in the Eastern Christian Tradition (which is based upon the Holy Scriptures). No woman should ever have to be told to go back into an abusive relationship/ situation (whether it be physical, mental, or spiritual abuse).

No priest should ever use "guilt and "shame" to control his parishioners. God gave you a brain and it was not to hold your ears apart.

You need the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments); you have been away from them for far too long. Make an appointment to see the parish priest. You shall be welcomed into our parishes and can start receiving the Holy Communion once again. Let the Divine Presence of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in Holy Communion close the old doors and begin a new life in Him, in His Grace, His Mercy, and Love. If you need us, give us a call, once again.

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5. How come your priests can marry and Roman Catholic priests cannot?

A married priesthood is based upon the Holy Scriptures (I Timothy 3). In the early church, even bishops were married. With the rise of monasticism, in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, bishops were not permitted to marry. The Roman Catholic Church instituted Canon Laws to require celibacy among their priests.

In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, priests and deacons have always been permitted to marry; however, they must marry before they receive Major Holy Orders or remain celibate. If a married priest or deacon is widowed, he can never remarry. There was always a provision in Canon Law for a married man to become a bishop.

The priest and his wife would grant each other "Letters of Freedom." These letters stipulated that while each of them took monastic vows and could not longer live as husband or wife or even live within the same house, then the priest, now a monastic, could be elected and consecrated a bishop. This option has rarely been utilised since the Eastern Orthodox Churches are still attempting to maintain a celibate episcopate.

The Scriptures (I Timothy 3, et. al.) have never been rescinded by God nor by the Church, no could they ever be. Obviously, a bishop is entitled to a believing Christian wife.

However, in our Church Tradition, in keeping with the Holy Scriptures, which existed in the Persian nor the Roman Empire, no such Canons laws were ever created. Hence a priest or deacon can marry before or after ordination.

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6. Why do you not refer to Mary as the "Mother of God?"

The Eastern Catholic Church tradition has always referred to Mary, as the Mother of Our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ. It has never utilised the reference "Mother of God or "Theotokos or birth-giver of God."

In the Aramaic, Greek, and Latin Scriptures, the Blessed Mother is referred to as "The Mother of Jesus." The Greek term "Theotokos" is a theological word from the 3rd and 4th Centuries of the early church and which is not found any where in Holy Scriptures. In Aramaic, the reference for God always includes the Holy Trinity. Hence, the Mother of God in Aramaic would state she was the Mother of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, this Church has always insisted upon utilising the Biblical references for Mary, the Mother of Our Lord.

While we recognise that all the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches do not mean that Mary is the Mother of the Holy Trinity, our reference and their reference for the Blessed Mother is all semantics. We all mean the same thing; we just use difference words to express the concept. Our tradition requires us to utilise Scriptural references for theological concepts.

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7. Protestants believe in the Bible and it is the only authority in the Church? Don't you use Holy Tradition? Aren't you a cult not believing in the Bible alone?

Cults are usually stated by semi-literate individuals who believe in "Me and my Bible alone." They believe in what we have always called the unholy trinity: me, myself, and I. In clergy meetings, even evangelical Protestant Clergy can't stand these individuals , since they are the ones who split off and start "new" churches, denominations, they will not listen not follow their own pastor's advice and direction in understanding proper biblical principles on how Scriptures are to be utilised in interpreting Scriptures.

From the very foundation of the Church, the Holy Scriptures or Bible has never been nor can it ever stand alone. It was the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which decided which books were to be included in the Bible; it determined which books were authentic and which books were not. The books were determined by much prayer and by their agreement with the Sacred Oral Traditions which had been received from the Holy Apostles. St. Paul the Apostle wrote in II Thessalonians 2: 15: "Hold fast to the traditions you were taught by us, whether by word of mouth or letter. & Therefore, we Eastern Christians adhere to the complete Apostolic teachings, contained in the Holy Scriptures and in the Sacred Oral Traditions of the undivided Church. St. Paul never stated: "Do not hold fast to any traditions which you can not find in Scriptures." The Bible does not belong to any one individual it belongs to the Church. The Church, in ecumenical councils, also wrote the Holy Creeds of the Christian Faith, gave us the Doctrines of the Faith, such as the Holy Trinity, Salvation, etc.

The same Holy Spirit which led the Church into the codification of Holy Scriptures was promised by Our Lord Jesus Christ to continue to lead and guide the Church unto all truth and to preserve the Church from all error (John 16: 13).

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8. Which Church calendar do you use and why?

At the present time, there are three Christian church calendars in use throughout Christianity. There are (1) the Gregorian or Western Calendar which is utilised by the Roman Catholic Church, the majority of their Byzantine or Uniate Rites, and Protestant Churches. (2) The Julian Calendar still utilised my most Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. This was the original calendar utilised by all Christian Churches since it was the calendar of the Roman Empire. (3) The Revised Julian Calendar utilised by some of the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches today.

The pivotal point of the calendar reckoning is the celebration of Holy Pascha (Resurrection Sunday or Easter as referred to by most western Christians). From the feast of Holy Pascha, all other church feasts are determined: The Holy Nativity (Christmas), The Ascension, The Feast of Pentecost, etc.

The Julian calendar, as the original calendar, always had Holy Pascha occurring after Passover, in order to follow the Holy Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church revised their calendar for themselves and all of Western Europe. Quite often, Holy Pascha occurs before the Jewish celebration of Passover commences. However, usually, every four years, both the Julian and the Gregorian Calendars agree on the celebration date for Holy Pascha. In the Julian Calendar, the Feast of the Holy Nativity usually occurs on the 7th of January; in the Gregorian Calendar, it is celebrated on the 25th December. In Europe, Orthodox Christmas is still referred to as "Little Christmas" and is still a celebration within European families (Roman and Protestant).

The Revised Julian Calendar celebrated the Holy Nativity on the 25th December and Holy Pascha according to the Julian Calendar. This calendar was originally composed as a compromise to the Eastern Christian peoples who now lived and work within Europe, the United States, and other English Speaking countries as well as to the needs of Eastern Christians who intermarried with Western Christians. It permitted Eastern Christians not to feel too out of place when celebrating the Nativity or Christmas with the western friends and family members.

While some Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions stress the calendar utilised to prove how "Orthodox" you are, our jurisdiction has always permitted each parish to utilise the Eastern Calendar Cycle of Feasts and Church Seasons either based upon the Gregorian, Revised Julian, or Julian Calendars. The calendar selected contains all identical Scripture Readings. The selection by the local vicar-bishop and parish has usually been based upon when the parish was established, if it were a parish from the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, or a Protestant Church, and which calendar they were currently utilising.

Having been raised with the Julian Calendar, we personally prefer it. It follows the Scriptural Principals of being called out from the world, not to conform to the world, to be a peculiar people. Hence, instead of becoming entrapped with the exploitation of Christmas, we take time off to become a part of the Life of Christ, to realise we are not to conform to the ways of the world but to transform the world by our example.

In our local parish of All Saints, the parishioners decided to utilise the Revised Julian. Calendar. We now celebrate the church calendar according to this Calendar.

The purpose of the Church Calendar is to remember and to live the Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the life of the early Church.

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9. Why do you use Icons and the Assyrian Church of the East does not?

Unfortunately, most of clergy of the Assyrian Church of the East are ignorant of their own church history. The Church of the East utilised icons throughout its early history. With the rise of the Islam, this religion forbade any type of representations of God, Angels, etc. within any of the Christian Churches within their empires. (With the fall of Constantinople, the Holy Wisdom Cathedral of the Patriarch of Constantinople had all of its icons covered over.) Since the Church of the East was located within the Islamic territories and within the Islamic empires, they were forced to remove their icons.

One of the last Assyrian appointed Metropolitans to the Church of the East in India was His Grace, Metropolitan Anthony Thondanatta. When he arrived in India, he was shocked to see icons in all of the Chaldean-Syrian Churches. It was documented by His Grace Metropolitan Dr. Mar Aprem, the current Metropolitan in India, in his history of his church: Metropolitan Anthony Thondanatta would go into the churches at night, remove and destroy all the icons. His goal was to recreate the Assyrian Church of the East within the Chaldean-Syrian Church in India.

Hence, the authentic Church of the East tradition as was all the branches of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church (Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic) included Icons in their church structures and spirituality; the icons were venerated during all the Holy Liturgies and Services within the church life (as well as the individual spiritual lives) of their believers.

It must be noted, that since the Chaldean-Syrian Church of the East in India existed within the British Empire, its clergy have been and are the most highly educated clergy (Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral Degrees) of all the provinces within the Assyrian Church of the East. Even today, the majority of the Assyrian Clergy was the "village trained clergy" i.e.: ordained to meet the spiritual needs of their parishioners, with very little formal seminary training or education. Hence, the clergy follow the old axiom: since we don't have icons now, we must never have had them.

Our jurisdiction utilises Icons because they are of the Sacred Tradition of our Mother Church in India. In 1902 when the Decree establishing our Autocephalous Status was issued by the Office of the Metropolitan See in India, icons had been and were still in use in India as they had been for over 1800+ years. It was and is a part of the Apostolic Traditions of the Church in India as well as the universal Eastern Christian Churches.

As Protestant pastors and churches became apart of our ecclesiastical jurisdiction, these churches were given a specified period of time in which to adopt the use of Icons in their worship and spiritual life. Obviously, this occurred after the introduction of the Church Theology (the Theology of the Icon as a Window of Heaven) was presented, Eastern Christian Spirituality, etc.

We do not worship the Icons; we do show honour (veneration and respect) to whom the icons' image represent, i.e.: God the Father, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, etc. We worship God alone and may not have no other before Him (Exodus 20).


 



 
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