Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (Harmondsworth: Penguin, revised ed., 1993),
p.133. Part of this quotation was used in the Report submitted to the Lambeth Commission by
an ad hoc subcommission of IARCCUM, ‘Ecclesiological Reflections on the Current
Situation in the Anglican Communion in the Light of ARCIC’ (June 8th 2004), n.5 (in a
section of the report devoted to ‘The Church’s Life in the 4
th Century’). I shall refer to thistext as ‘IARCCUM Report’.
TOWARDS AN ANGLICAN COVENANT
1. ‘We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him’ (Rom 8:28).
The Anglican Communion is currently facing grave issues of structural unity at the same
time as it seeks to clarify its teaching on important sacramental and moral issues. The two
sets of issues (structural and doctrinal) are intimately related, in that the Church as a
pilgrim people is bound to encounter new challenges and unforeseen questions on its
journey in history, and therefore must have an adequate mechanism for coping with them
and finding acceptable solutions which, far from placing the community under stress
actually consolidate its unity. Serious issues will inevitably test the structures, and it
would surely be an unlikely luxury to be able to work out the structures prior to
addressing any major problems. It is far more likely that problems will precipitate work
to establish adequate structures, and St Paul assures us in the quote above that that
process and its end-result can be blessed if the work is done in the love that is the gift of
2. This has been the pattern of the life of the Church ever since the earliest centuries, and
there are almost countless historical precedents that might be looked to for guidance and
help in the present situation. The fourth century was a particularly turbulent period of
doctrinal crisis and structural upheaval. Henry Chadwick writes:
‘It was the misfortune of the fourth-century Church that it became
engrossed in a theological controversy at the same time as it was working
out its institutional organisation. The doctrinal disagreements quickly
became inextricably associated with matters of order, discipline and
authority. Above all, they became bound up with the gradually growing
tension between the Greek East and the Latin West.’
As indicated above, I would suggest that what was indeed obviously a ‘misfortune’ from
one point of view, can also be seen as perhaps providential from another. By its very
name, the Anglican Communion proclaims its awareness that God’s gift to us is a
participation in the communion life of the Trinity. Now, as well as being a communion
in space, as it were, uniting Christians across the world today, the Church is also a
communion in time, and tradition is the fellowship of Christians through the ages, by
means of which those who face problems today can be helped in charity by those who
have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. From the many important legacies of-2-
the 4th century, I would like to consider one particular canon from that century that is
playing a prominent role in ecclesial and ecumenical reflection today, and that I would
like to suggest can be helpful in the process of preparing an Anglican Covenant.
3. The quotation from Henry Chadwick valuably highlights the fact that already in the
fourth century, long before the famous events of 1054, there were tensions between the
Greek East and the Latin West precisely with regard to the structure of the Church and
the manner of resolving doctrinal and disciplinary disputes. One of the most hopeful
ecclesial events of recent times has been the resumption of formal dialogue between the
Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, aimed at the restoration of full
communion. The first meeting of the reconstituted international commission for
theological dialogue between the two churches was held at Belgrade in September 2006,
and was swiftly followed by Pope Benedict’s highly successful visit to Turkey, and in
particular to theEcumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The dialogue has reached the
crucial stage of considering the interrelated topics of authority, conciliarity and primacy
in the Church. It would surely be helpful for the Anglican Communion, which has been
in fruitful dialogue for decades with both of these churches individually, to bear the
Roman Catholic-Orthodox (RC-O) dialogue in mind as it (the Anglican Communion)
moves towards an internal covenant that will adequately accommodate considerations of
authority, conciliarity and primacy in the polity of the Communion. Two particular
reasons stand out:
a) First, the RC-O dialogue is naturally seeking to draw on the period of the undivided
Church in its reflections. That period belongs to the heritage of us all, including
Anglicans, and offers principles that have stood the test of time subsequently. Principles
that come to prominence in the dialogue because of their relevance for today, may well
be relevant also for the Anglican Covenant.
b) Second, the more there are common threads running through the decisions that Catholics,
Orthodox and Anglicans make both individually and together in this privileged
ecumenical time, the more we shall implicitly be weaving the fabric of ever-greater unity
4. It is not at all surprising that the Anglican Communion, which because of a variety of
factors has seen a rapidly increasing number of provinces in the past century, should be
grappling with the crucial issue of how to coordinate the life of such a diverse and
burgeoning family of Christians. The Communion has progressively provided itself with
four instruments of unity, namely the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth
Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council , and the Primates’ Meeting. A clear
recognition that the Christian Church needs both primacy and conciliarity in its structures
of authority is evident in the list of these instruments, yet these instruments as presently
constituted have not proved sufficient to deal with the present crisis. Precisely because
these instruments already embody recognition of the crucial principles of primacy and
conciliarity, the way forward lies not in abandoning them for other instruments, but in
developing them to serve more adequately. The lack of an explicit body of canon law
specifically pertaining to the Communion as such has also been keenly felt. The Windsor
Report (TWR) strongly supported moves towards furnishing the Communion at least
with a body of canonical principles (TWR, n.114), and such a corpus would indeed seem2
Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, n.22.
Yves Congar, ‘A Last Look at the Council’ in Alberic Stacpoole (ed.), Vatican II by
those who were there (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986), pp.337-58, here at p.341.
‘The Sacrament of Order in the Sacramental Structure of the Church with Particular
Reference to the Importance of Apostolic Succession for the Sanctification and Unity of the
People of God’ (1988), in John Borelli & John H.Erickson (eds.), The Quest for Unity:
Orthodox and Catholics in Dialogue (Crestwood/Washington DC: St Vladimir’s Seminary
Press/United States Catholic Conference, 1996), nn.55, 53, respectively (on p.142).
to have a vital role to play as an additional instrument of unity. However, TWR’s most
prominent proposals focus upon the Archbishop of Canterbury himself and aim at
strengthening his primatial role (TWR, nn.105-112). Given the origins of the Church of
England and hence of the Anglican Communion, it is natural that there should be an
instinctive caution with regard to a primacy pertaining to the Communion as a whole, yet
the need for a stronger focal primacy has become plain.
5. Mutatis mutandis, there is great caution regarding universal primacy among the Orthodox
Churches, yet a constructive dialogue on primacy, including universal primacy, has begun
among Orthodox and Roman Catholics. The latter, of course, are known for a universal
primacy so strong that it has risked eclipsing conciliarity. After the definitions of papal
primacy and infallibility at Vatican I (1869-70), it gradually became widely presumed that
the era of councils was now over. Pope John XXIII caused a major stir by the very fact
of summoning another council. At its heart, appropriately, was a definition of the
collegiality and collegial responsibility of the bishops:
‘The order of bishops is the successor of the college of the apostles in their
role as teachers and pastors, and in it the apostolic college is perpetuated.
Together with their head, the Supreme Pontiff, and never apart from him,
they have supreme and full authority over the universal Church.’
The most significant thing about Vatican II (1962-65) was that it actually happened. The
conciliar experience ‘reopened the chapter in the Church’s book of conciliar life’.
6. The third agreed statement of the internationalRoman Catholic-Orthodox dialogue stated
that it was in the perspective of ‘communion among local churches that the question
could be addressed of primacy in the Church in general and in particular, the primacy of
the bishop of Rome’. Moreover, it invoked a fourth century canon, namely Apostolic
Canon 34, to indicate a way forward: ‘according to canon 34 of the Apostolic Canons,
belonging to the canonical tradition of our churches, the first among the bishops only
takes a decision in agreement with the other bishops and the latter take no important
decision without the agreement of the first’
This canon would likewise, I presume, be counted as belonging to the canonical tradition of the Anglican Communion. It may be of great benefit to the Communion at this time, as it is certainly offering assistance in the context of RC-O dialogue. It is also perhaps worth mentioning that, although the
Orthodox do not favour the concept of Canon Law, an awareness of the Canons is crucial5
Ioannis Zizioulas, ‘Recent Discussions on Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology’, in
Cardinal Walter Kasper (ed.), The Petrine Ministry (Mahwah NJ: Newman Press, 2006),
pp.231-46, here at p. 243.
John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1985),
pp.135-36, n.24. There was a reference to this canon in IARCCUM Report, n.8.
Cf Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, ‘Primacy in the Church: An
Orthodox Approach’, in James F. Puglisi (ed.), Petrine Ministry and the Unity of the Church
(Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1999), pp.115-25, here at pp.118-19. Also, Being as
Communion, pp.135-37. On Zizioulas, see Paul McPartlan, The Eucharist Makes the Church:
Henri de Lubac and John Zizioulas in Dialogue (1993; new ed., Fairfax VA: Eastern
Christian Publications, 2006), esp. pp.203-211.
to Orthodox ecclesial life. Canons do not have to be viewed purely as matters of law.
7. The value of Apostolic Canon 34 for RC-O dialogue has been strongly advocated by
Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, theOrthodoxCo-President of the international
RC-O dialogue (the Catholic Co-President being Cardinal Walter Kasper). Recently,
Metropolitan John went so far as to state: ‘This canon can be the golden rule of the
theology of primacy.’
The full version of the canon is as follows:
‘The bishops of every nation (region = §2<@H) ought to know who is the
first one (BDäJ@H) among them, and to esteem him as their head, and not
to do any great thing without his consent; but every one to manage the
affairs that belong to his own diocese and the territory subject to it. But let
him (i.e. the first one) not do anything without the consent of all the other
(bishops); for it is by this means that there will be unanimity, and God will
be glorified through Christ in the Holy Spirit.’
Zizioulas regards the Trinitarian doxology at the end of the canon as highly significant.
It indicates that this manner of relating between what he calls the ‘one’ and the ‘many’
has its prototype in God, and is the pattern that the earthly Church must necessarily adopt
if it is truly participating in the life of God. In other words, communion is not a vague or
formless reality. It has a definite shape, namely that of the one and the many. This fact
is of great importance for the shaping and structure of a Trinitarian, communional
Church. In the Trinity, the Father is the one, the central, anchoring Person, of whom the
Son is begotten and from whom the Spirit proceeds. There are no Son and Spirit without
the Father, but equally there is no Father without the Son and the Spirit. There is full
reciprocity between the one and the many. This pattern then applies to Christology, to the
Eucharist, and to the Church, which regularly receives communion in the celebration of
Zizioulas continues: ‘the one-and-the-many idea which runs through the
entire doctrine of the Church leads directly to the ministry of primacy’. Primacy is the
reflection of the ‘one’ in the structure and life of the Church. He adds: ‘It also indicates
the conditions which are necessary for primacy to be ecclesiologically justifiable and8
Ibid., p.125. Cf also Metropolitan John of Pergamon, ‘The Church as Communion:
A Presentation on the World Conference Theme’, in Thomas F. Best and Gunther Gassmann
(eds.), On the way to Fuller Koinonia (Faith and Order Paper no.166; Geneva: WCC, 1994),
pp.103-111, here at p.108; on pp.106-107, Zizioulas says that ‘the careful balance between
the “one” and the “many” in the structure of the community is to be discovered behind all
canonical provisions in the early church’.
Nicolas Lossky, ‘Conciliarity-Primacy in a Russian Orthodox Perspective’, in
Puglisi (ed.), Petrine Ministry, pp.127-135, here at p. 131.
Alexander Schmemann, ‘The Idea Of Primacy In Orthodox Ecclesiology’, in John
Meyendorff (ed.), The Primacy of Peter (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1992;
first edition published in 1963), pp.145-71, here at p.164; see p.161 for Apostolic Canon 34.
Ibid., p.165; cf Metropolitan John, ‘The Church as Communion’, p.108.
It is important to note that, although Canon 34 originally applies at the regional
level, Zizioulas sees in it a principle that must logically apply at all levels in the Church,
local (the bishop in his local church), regional (e.g. the primate or patriarch among the
bishops of an area), and universal (the universal primate among the primates or
patriarchs). ‘A universal primus exercising his primacy in such a way is not only “useful”
to the Church but an ecclesiological necessity in a unified Church.’
8. The Russian Orthodox, Nicolas Lossky, indicates that Zizioulas speaks ‘for all of us
[Orthodox]’ with regard to the ecclesiology of communion, and he also highlights the
original use of Canon 34 to refer to primacy at all levels in the Church by Father
Two nuanced quotations from Schmemann may serve to
indicate the kind of (universal) primacy he would see as required by the Church.
‘[P]rimacy in the Church is not “supreme power”, this notion being incompatible with
the nature of the Church as Body of Christ. But neither is primacy a mere “chairmanship”
if one understands this term in its modern, parliamentary and democratic connotations.’
‘Primacy is power, but as power it is not different from the power of a
bishop in each church. It is not a higher power but indeed the same power,
only expressed, manifested, realized by one. The primate can speak for all
because the Church is one and because the power he exercises is the power
of each bishop and of all bishops. And he must speak for all because this
very unity and agreement require, in order to be efficient, a special organ of
expression, a mouth, a voice. Primacy is thus a necessity because therein is
the expression and manifestation of the unity of the churches as being the
unity of the Church. And it is important to remember that the primate, as we
know him from our canonical tradition, is always the bishop of a local
church and not a “bishop at large”, and that primacy belongs to him
precisely because of his status in his own church.’
Cf Zizioulas, ‘Recent Discussions’, p.253: ‘There seems, in fact, not to exist, even
in the Orthodox Church, “a simple primacy of honour”’.
Cf Schmemann, ‘The Idea of Primacy’, pp.160-61; also Zizioulas, ‘Recent
Discussions’, pp.237, 243.
Schmemann, ‘The Idea of Primacy’, pp.166-67; cf Zizioulas, ‘Recent Discussions’,
9. I would respectfully propose that Schmemann’s description of primacy (which it is
fascinating to compare with the formulation of Vatican I) may be useful to the Anglican
Communion at the present time on several counts.
a) First, it offers a frank, confident and unapologetic case for a real primacy, not just at the
regional level, but also at the universal level. Schmemann’s words resonate at many
points with the needs, desires and priorities of the Anglican Communion at this time.
They also, I suggest, prompt a query about something stated in TWR. ‘Like the other
Instruments of Unity, ... the Primates’ Meeting has refused to acknowledge anythingmore
than a consultative and advisory authority’ (TWR, n.104). By its phrasing, this statement
presumably includes reference to the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury also.
Schmemann’s primate has more than just a ‘consultative and advisory authority’, and his
primacy certainly goes beyond what is often presumed to apply in Orthodoxy, namely a
‘primacy of honour’ (the phrase which is applied in TWR, Appendix Two, Art.24, to the
position of the Archbishop of Canterbury).
b) Second, Schmemann emphasises, as does Zizioulas even more strongly, that primacy and
synodality (or conciliarity) go together and are not alternatives. There is no synod without
a primate, and no primate without a synod; that is the point of Canon 34.
Report is rather tentative in its promotion of the idea of a real primacy for the Archbishop
of Canterbury in the Communion as a whole, as if there is a weakness humanly and
perhaps even theologically in the fact that, unlike the other instruments of unity, ‘he alone
is an individual, and not conciliar in nature’. He will thus need to be ‘supported by
appropriate mechanisms to ensure that he does not feel exposed and left to act entirely
alone’ (TWR, nn.111-112). What seems to be absent here is the fundamental perception
of the ontological interdependence of the one and the many that Schmemann and
Zizioulas take for granted. Their primate is ‘conciliar in nature’.
c) Third, Schmemann, and Zizioulas after him, are highly critical of the distortion of
Orthodox ecclesiology by religious nationalism and autocephaly. ‘All these
“autocephalies” are absolutely equal among themselves, and this equality excludes any
universal centre or primacy.’ The result, they say, is a Church ‘naturalised’ and ‘reduced’,
conformed to the world and not to Christ.
This criticism mirrors the concern that The
Windsor Report expresses regarding an excessive provincial autonomy which tends
towards independence and resists the ‘mutual interdependence’ that ought to characterise
a communion life rooted in God (e.g. TWR, nn.46, 49, 51, 66, 72-86). Schmemann and
Zizioulas indicate that universal primacy, rightly understood, is a proper and ancient
institution to counter such a distortion.16
ARCIC, Authority in the Church I (1976), n.23.
ARCIC, Authority in the Church II (1981), n.9.
Cf Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Letter to the Bishops of the
Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Considered as Communion (1992), n.13.
d) Before moving on, it is important to clarify that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not, of
course, the universal primate that both Schmemann and Zizioulas have in mind in their
writings on this subject. The universal primate they are considering is the Bishop of
Rome. Both Anglicans and Roman Catholics have likewise agreed that ‘[t]he only see
which makes any claim to universal primacy and which has exercised and still exercises
such episcope is the see of Rome’,
and that ‘a universal primacy will be needed in a
reunited Church and should appropriately be the primacy of the bishop of Rome’.
not for one moment wish to call into question these affirmations of ARCIC, rather the
opposite. My application here of the thought of Schmemann and Zizioulas regarding
universal primacy to the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury is by analogy. The
Archbishop’s position is one that falls somewhere in between the original regional level
of Canon 34 (the level of the provinces with their primates) and the universal level to
which Schmemann and Zizioulas extend the principle of the canon, with the universal
primacy of Rome in view. It is precisely the principle of the canon that I am applying to
the Archbishop’s role, with the idea that, if Orthodox, Catholics and Anglicans all allow
their structures to be shaped by the same principle (of the one and the many), then there
will be an increasing ‘family resemblance’ between them, and it ought eventually to be
easier to align and integrate those structures in one overall visible communion (cf above,
10. The idea of the ‘interdependence’ of churches in the Anglican Communion is of huge
importance, and there is benefit in unpacking it both theologically and practically.
Appendix Two of The Windsor Report (‘Proposal for the Anglican Covenant’) helpfully
relates interdependence to the mystery of the Body of Christ and speaks of ‘mutual
reciprocity’ between member churches (Art. 4). It then goes deeper still, and explores the
dynamics of life in communion by saying that each church ‘is constituted in, exists in and
receives fulness of life in its relations to the other member churches’ (Art. 7.2); each
church is ‘completed in, through and by its relations with other member churches’ (Art.
8.1). The mystery being evoked in these descriptions of relationship is nothing less than
the mystery of the Trinity itself, in which the communion life of the Body of Christ is
ultimately rooted. The Appendix correctly applies to the member churches of the
Communion the pattern of relations that exists between the divine Persons. We may go
further, and aptly speak of a perichoresis or ‘mutual interiority’ between the churches,
and indeed between each member church and the Communion as a whole.
ultimately means is that the bonds of communion that unite the member churches with
one another and with the Archbishop of Canterbury as primate of the Communion are not
external bonds, added to the autonomous lives of the respective churches from outside,
but rather internal bonds that go to, and spring from, the heart of each autonomous19
Cf ibid., n.13, where, from a Roman Catholic standpoint, the CDF states: ‘The
ministry of the successor of Peter is a necessary expression of that fundamental mutual
interiority between universal Church and particular Church’ (ibid., n.13).
Cf Schmemann, ‘The Idea of Primacy’, pp.165-68; Zizioulas, ‘Primacy in the
church itself, and form part of its own internal integrity.
These bonds form part of the
very constitution and self-definition of each member church. Two particular
consequences may immediately be identified:
a) The constitutions and canons of the member churches ought to reflect the fact that
Communion membership is part of their self-definition, and should not give the
impression that those churches are fully constituted prior to or aside from communion
with the other churches and with the primate of the Communion. In other words, member
churches should not be defined purely in themselves, e.g. by their adherence to preaching
the word, celebrating the sacraments, professing the creed, being in apostolic succession
and committed to mission, etc., and then just ‘happen’, as it were, also to be members of
the Communion. That would reduce the Communion simply to a society. In short, the
Covenant needs to be internalised by each member church, and taken into its heart.
b) TWR states that the instruments of unity exercise no jurisdiction over the autonomous
member churches (Art. 24). However, it must be clarified that that does not mean they
have no authority with regard to member churches. This is a delicate but vital point. The
idea of ‘jurisdiction over’ corresponds to the idea that bonds of communion (with other
churches and likewise with the instruments of unity, including the primate of the
Communion) are external to member churches. Problematically, our Western minds
immediately think of the word ‘over’ as the sequel to that of ‘authority’. All authority is
presumed to be authority over, and not to be serious unless it is juridical. Thus, if
‘jurisdiction over’ member churches is eschewed by the instruments of unity (as arguably
it should be),
the danger is that those instruments are not regarded as having any real
authority. It is therefore extremely important that learning about ‘authority in
communion’ (i.e. as pertaining to the instruments of unity) accompanies the process of
learning about ‘autonomy in communion’, the concept that TWR wishes to promote (e.g.
Art. 21). ‘Authority in communion’ is the authority that an instrument has within the
Communion precisely because of the internal dynamics of the life of communion; if
anything it is weightier than mere ‘jurisdiction over’. Appreciation of that fact needs to
11. The above reflections resonate in many ways with the valuable reflections contained in
the consultation paper of the Joint Standing Committee, Towards an Anglican Covenant
(hereafter, JSC), and in the IATDC text, Responding to a proposal of a covenant
(hereafter, IATDC). Both texts look to what a growing communion realistically needs in
terms of structures to manage the conflicts and even crises that will inevitably arise on
its journey as a pilgrim people (JSC, nn.10-11; IATDC, 3.1, 4.1, 4.5). Both texts see the
covenant as part of an organic development of the Communion as it seeks now to-9-
articulate, heal, strengthen and develop the very ‘bonds of affection’ that already unite
it (JSC, nn.1, 6-7; IATDC, 1.11, 6.1). As I have above, JSC emphasises the educational
value of a covenant (nn.9, 17). I would add the following specific comments:
a) JSC asks whether the covenant might be short, like the Bonn Agreement or the LambethChicago Quadrilateral (n.17). I would remark that the Bonn Agreement as stated falls
short of what is required here, and that the recent crisis itself shows the inadequacy of the
Quadrilateral as a covenantal formula in itself. The covenant must essentially include a
mechanism for dealing with problems, a strong and satisfactory account of the process
that will be followed. Appendix Two of TWR (Arts. 23-27, but note my reservations
above - in 9(a) & 10(b) - about Art.24) seems to tackle this aspect well.
b) The somewhat delicate issue of the status and authority of the Lambeth Conference is
indicated in both texts (JSC, n.17; IATDC, 4.4). Whether the Lambeth Conference can
and should continue to be simply an ‘informal gathering of bishops’ (IATDC, 4.4) is a
moot point. TWR, Appendix Two, Art.24, says something stronger, namely that the
Lambeth Conference expresses ‘episcopal collegiality worldwide’ and that it gathers for
‘common counsel, consultation and encouragement and to provide direction to the whole
Communion’. Episcopal collegiality was understood by Vatican II to entail leadership of
the Church (see above, n.5), and the history of the early Church shows the vital role of
discernment and leadership played both by regional councils (cf provincial synods) and
by ecumenical councils. Obviously, the Lambeth Conference is not an ‘ecumenical
council’ (cf the caveats expressed above, in 9(d)). Nevertheless, it is an extremely
significant gathering of, in principle, all the bishops of the Communion, with their
primates and the focal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was natural in the early
Church for bishops to gather to resolve together issues of major importance, and for them
to make binding decisions in council. Does the status of the Lambeth Conference now
need clarification and perhaps enhancement?
c) Neither JSC nor IATDC particularly highlights the specific value of the Primates’
Meeting as an instrument of unity, but, ecclesiologically speaking, the recent
development of this instrument would seem to be an extremely positive move, very much
in accord with the principle of Apostolic Canon 34. It might be worthwhile to bear that
principle in mind as the relationship of the primates to the Archbishop of Canterbury is
d) I would prefer the image of ‘concentric circles’ to that of ‘two tiers’ used by JSC to
describe what might prove to be different degrees of commitment to an eventual covenant
(JSC, nn.32-33). Visually, the first image permits the Archbishop of Canterbury to be at
the centre of the structure of communion, which is entirely appropriate.
12. In conclusion, I would emphasise my desire to advocate the use of common principles
by Catholics, Orthodox andAnglicans at this important time of ecclesiological discussion
and decision in various contexts, drawn from the common tradition which we are
privileged to share. In so doing, by the grace of God, may we prepare the way for the
eventual restoration of full communion between us all.
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