Prayer to the Saints, Part Three
January 03, 2009 Length: 44:27
How can we communicate with the departed saints if they are dead? What is the state of the departed according to the Scriptures? Are they concious, and if so, of what? Can they hear the petitions of those alive on earth? What do they do when people pray to them? These and other questions are actually answered in the Bible. Tune in and find out where.
Steve: Good afternoon, and welcome to this edition of Our Life in Christ, and I’m your host today Steve Robinson, as usual, in the studio with Bill Gould as usual. Bill we’re coming up on our first break. When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about the state of the dead. So hang on to your hats folks, because this is where the rubber is going to meet the road.
Steve: And welcome back to Our Life in Christ with your host Steve Robinson, and I’m in the studio today with my co-host Bill Gould. I don’t know what threw me off there, Bill. I almost said For the Life of the World.
Bill: Oh no!
Steve: It’s been months and months.
Bill: Well, that’s not a bad thing to say.
Steve: Well, no.
Bill: It’s just not the title of our show anymore.
Steve: Yeah, well I don’t know. I just had one of those flashbacks or something. Anyway, we’re going to continue our discussion now on Prayers to the Departed Saints. And Bill, we need to make a distinction right here up-front, because one of the things we talked about in our very first show on this is that we are victims of a lot of muddy, muddy thinking when it comes to topics having to do with the departed.
Steve: And a lot of it has to do with imprecise use of Scriptures; as we said – not underlining nearly enough Scriptures and not using Biblical terms in Biblical ways. And so we need to make a distinction right here up-front, because I know this all kind of just bleeds over into this kind of global thinking about the departed. And there is a difference between prayer to the saints, prayer to the departed ones in Christ, and prayer for the dead.
Steve: Now, what’s the big difference here, because this is going to be important? We’re going to do a show later on prayer for the dead, but this is not about that. So when we talk about praying to the departed saints, we’re talking about seeking their intercession.
Bill: That’s right.
Steve: We’re talking about seeking them to intercede on our behalf to God.
Bill: Right. And when we’re praying for the dead, we’re praying that God’s mercy would follow us into death. And in both cases I think it’s fair to say that death , just in general, is a mystery.
Steve: Yes, absolutely.
Bill: And we don’t fully comprehend it. It’s not scientific, although people try to make it that way. It isn’t. It’s a mystery. The separation of the body and the spirit is something that we won’t fully comprehend.
Steve: No, but we do have Scripture that tells us something about what happens.
Bill: We do, and that’s what we’re going to try to get through today. We probably ought to try to describe death in terms of what we believe about what happens at death.
Steve: And this is where we really need to go to the Scriptures, because no one really knows what happens after death because only one person has ever really come back from it to tell us, and that’s Jesus Christ.
So when we talk about the Scriptures, everything is going to be seen in light of the Resurrection of Christ, and I think we need to look at all of these passages in terms of that. Because our life in Christ is not just here on this earth, it is our life in Christ from the beginning of our life in Christ that supersedes and transcends physical death. And those are the things we need to look at.
Now, what is death? That’s the big question. What does death mean in the Scriptures?
Bill: Well, we have a pretty good idea from the Scriptures that death is not annihilation, certainly. It is not necessarily unconsciousness either.
Steve: No, that’s going to be the big kicker. But there are denominations; there are heresies today, Jehovah’s Witnesses being one, that talk about annihilation as being a state of death; that when a person dies the soul is annihilated, and they cease to exist. And that’s what Hell is is to cease to exist.
Bill: Well, that’s not what we teach.
Steve: And there are some mainline theologians that I’ve read that are annihilationists. They believe that that’s ultimately a merciful God; that a merciful God would not send somebody to Hell, but would just annihilate them.
Bill: So it’s just a big black out?
Steve: Yeah, you just disappear. So anyway, that’s a theory, but the Scriptures don’t present death as annihilation. Now death in a very fundamental sense is separation, and I think that’s at what the root of what death is. Death is separation of the soul and the body, which is an unnatural state. God created the human being as a soul and body. We are one person with a soul and a body. We don’t exist as separate things kind of stitched together. We are intended to exist as a unity of soul and body.
Bill: And the cry of the Orthodox Church to the world is that death is not natural. So often you hear someone dying a natural death. We consider death as unnatural.
Steve: Exactly, because it goes contrary to the original created order. Death came through sin, and death is not what we were intended to undergo. Death is not what we were supposed to experience. So the separation of the soul and body, and there is a separation of the living and the dead. We have a relationship. We have love. We have continuity with people. We have this bond between us that is broken by death, and that was not supposed to happen. So death is seen as separation.
When you go through the Psalms and a lot of the writings in the Old Testament, there’s a term that a person is cut off, and that’s a euphemism for putting somebody to death. And so when a person is put to death, they are cut off from the living. They are cut off from relationships. So we have again this notion of separation.
So eternal life then is not just mere immortality. Eternal life is not just existing forever, because the demons exist forever. There’s a quality about what God means when he talks about eternal life that transcends just eternal existence.
Bill: Yeah, like eternal selfishness or something like that is Hell.
Steve: Right, and so we can live eternally in Hell. The demons live eternally in pride and arrogance and eternal selfishness, and so eternal existence is not the same as eternal life. So let’s take a look at Scripture, Bill, because we have to turn to Scripture to find out what is the state of the dead.
Now, you said a few minutes ago that annihilation and unconsciousness are not what the Scriptures are talking about when they talk about death, so let’s take a look at what is the state of the dead.
Bill: Yeah well, the dead are not dead.
Steve: Let’s just put that on the table.
Bill: If we go to Luke 9:28-31, in the Transfiguration, we see Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus about His impending death in Jerusalem. Not only were they just visible and apparent, but they were engaged in conversation.
Steve: Yeah, they were conversing with Christ about future events. And so, there was a conscious activity going on there, and the Apostles who were witnessing this, saw that. They were witnesses of it. They overheard this.
So when we look at Luke 16:19, this is sometimes seen as a parable, but there’s a lot of even Protestant commentators who say, “Well, this doesn’t exactly fit the pattern of a parable.” It’s the story of the rich man and Lazarus. And what we have here is the rich man, who is in Hades, but he is in torment. We have Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham; who is being comforted.
Now, there’s a lot of things going on there, but the upshot of it is for our purposes is that there is consciousness. There is conversation going on. There is awareness – not only awareness of things going on in Heaven, but there is awareness of things going on on earth. The rich man begs Abraham to send somebody to his brothers, who are on earth, so that they might repent.
Now Abraham makes an interesting statement. He says, “They have the Prophets, and they have the Law, and they have Moses.” Now, think of this historically. When was Abraham alive? He was alive 450 years before Moses. And so Abraham, in this story, knows that Moses and the Prophets and everybody has come along since his departure from earth. So Abraham is aware of what happened on earth since his departure.
Bill: And if we turn over to Matthew 22:32, and that also cross-references to Luke 20:38, and this is where Christ refutes the Sadducees and their views of the resurrection. He says, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” That’s a very strong proof there.
Steve: And Abraham is, in both passages, alive to God. Now in 2 Corinthians 5:1, this is one of the passages in which Paul is talking about the resurrection and immortality. He says, “We long to be clothed with our dwelling from Heaven, the mortal being swallowed up in immortality.” And so, there’s this relationship between what is happening to us now and what happens to us when we are transformed.
Now, there’s an interesting passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16. This is about the Second Coming. But what does Paul say there about those who are dead? Who comes first?
Bill: Well, the dead in Christ will rise first, but we will not proceed those who have fallen asleep.
Steve: Now, this is kind of interesting because he uses both terms about the same people. He says that those who are asleep are going to be resurrected first, and then he says that those who are dead in Christ will rise first. And so he uses these two terms interchangeably.
Bill: And we have a lot more passages about sleep.
Steve: Yeah, we’re going to talk about sleep and death here in a few minutes. And then, Romans 14:9 is again about the ministry of Christ. “For to this end, Christ died and lived again that he might be both Lord of the dead and of the living.” And so this is basically the Scriptural teaching on death and that death in Christ is not death. There is this consciousness that follows us into death.
Bill: Well another really strong passage for this also comes from 1 Peter 3:18 where it says:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient when once the divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah.
Now, that is amazing.
Steve: Yeah, here’s Jesus who dies a human death, but what happens to His Spirit? It goes into Hades. It doesn’t fall asleep and go unconscious. It doesn’t become unaware.
Bill:It starts talking. It starts preaching, and the spirits in Hades are hearing.
Steve: So there’s this interaction; this conscious activity that goes on after death – even in the death of Christ. Now, there’s a really, really cool prayer during our services, and we’re going to have to close this segment with this prayer. It says:
In the grave with the body, but in Hades with the soul as God,
In Paradise with the thief, and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit,
Wast thou, O Christ, filling all things, Thyself uncircumscribed?
Now, that’s the ultimate mystery of death right there in that prayer. And so Bill, when we come back, we’re going to talk about what does it mean then to be asleep in the Lord? Is this talking about an unconscious state? Is this talking about somebody who just kind of goes to Lala Land and wakes up some day in the general resurrection? So when we come back from our break, we’re going to talk about that.
Steve: Welcome back to Our Life in Christ. I think I’m waking up, Bill. I had a couple of stumbling blocks there the last segment.
Bill: Well, it popped a little there on the mic last time. I’m not sure what happened.
Steve: Well anyway, we’re talking about the dead in Christ. And one of the metaphors that’s used or one of the ways that our death is described in the Scriptures is sleep. Now always, when the death of a believer is talked about in Scripture, it’s always talked about in terms of sleep.
Now, let’s take a look at some passages here, because these are important, and this is something that’s always brought, and that is, “Well, if we’re asleep, then we’re not conscious.” So let’s take a look at what is sleep.
Bill: Well, we start with Daniel 12:2 in the Old Testament. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, though these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”
Steve: Now, this is a really key passage, because this is a passage in the Gospel of John in which Jesus reveals Himself as the Resurrection and the Life to Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus.
So He said to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. But I go that I may awaken Him out of sleep.” The disciples said to Him therefore, “Lord, if he is fallen asleep, then he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought He was speaking of a literal sleep. Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”
Bill: It took them a little while to get that one.
Steve: Yeah, but here Jesus is using both terms about the same state. He says that Lazarus is asleep, but then He has to tell the disciples plainly that he’s not talking about him falling asleep literally, but that he is dead.
Bill: Matthew 9:24, when Christ raised a little girl from the dead, He said, “The girl has not died but is asleep.” And they began to laugh at Him, because they knew her to be dead. He calls her asleep.
Steve: Well, they know what death looks like, probably more than most of us do. Because in those times, when someone was dead, the funeral services and everything that went on there, people knew when somebody was dead.
Bill: In Matthew 27:52 it said, “The tombs were open, and many bodies of the saints, who had fallen asleep, were raised.”
Steve: Acts 7:60, when Stephen is being stoned to death, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them, and having said that Stephen fell asleep.”
Bill: And then further on, Acts 13:36, “David fell asleep and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay.”
Steve: So he was dead, because in death our bodies decay. That is spoken of as being asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:6 and all the way through, “Some have fallen asleep,” and, “Those who are asleep,” and, “We shall not fall asleep, but we shall be raised.” This term is used over and over again.
Bill: And we covered that one in 1 Thessalonians earlier, but there’s one in 2 Peter 3:4 that says, “Ever since the fathers fell asleep.”
Steve: Now what are the Scriptures trying to communicate to us here by using the terms sleep, instead of death when speaking of the death of the believer?
Bill: Well, I think it’s a term of comfort. It’s not a scientific or perhaps a medical or psychological or some sort of explanation of the state of the person, as much as sleep is used as a way to comfort us with respect to the fact that there isn’t annihilation. It isn’t final.
Steve: Well, when somebody dies, they never wake up. You’re cut off. The relationship is lost. You’re gone. Now, if somebody is asleep, you know that they’re coming back. They might sleep for 24 hours straight, but you know at some point, they’re going to snoring, and they’re going to wake up. And they’re going to be back with you again.
So I think the Scriptures bear this out that when the Scriptures talk about us being asleep, they’re not talking about a state of unconsciousness or a state of nonbeing in some sense. We had all the passages in the first segment about all of these people who are asleep in the Lord, who have died, and are departed, and they are very conscious and very aware and very active in the afterlife.
Bill: Yeah, I think we proved that pretty well that death exists that way.
Steve: But part of the problem is this muddy thinking about what death really is. Now, death is our enemy, and this is what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15:26. The man’s last enemy that will be destroyed is death. In Hebrews 2:15, Paul talks about that we are being held in bondage to fear of death.
And if you study the Fathers and the Scriptures, you see that death is really the enemy. Death is really the thing that we are held in bondage to because of sin, and this is the thing that needs to be overcome.
Bill: Right, and through the Lord we conquer death. And so it’s really not death anymore but asleep.
Steve: Because we are coming back. And so, as you said, the term sleep is not a scientific or theological metaphor or trying to make a statement about a state of consciousness or unconsciousness. We’re not existing in some unconscious out of touch dream state when we die, but it’s just saying that when you die, you’re not really dead because in Christ and in your life in Christ, you will wake up.
You will come back, and you will be reunited. You will be reestablished as who you are – your whole body and soul. Everything will be put back together and all your relationships will be restored.
Bill: Well, in James 2:26 it says, “The body without the spirit is dead.” So the focus is on the body. It doesn’t really tell us much about the state of the spirit. We know that it’s separated from the body, but we also know from the Scriptures we talked about earlier that it seems to be that it’s conscious, capable, and can communicate.
Steve: Well, I think that’s an important point because as James says, “The body without the spirit is dead.” It doesn’t say that the spirit without the body is dead. And I think this becomes a very important point. And this is what the Fathers teach is that consciousness is an attribute of the spirit and not the body. Where does our consciousness come from? Where does our awareness come from? What is the seat of who we are as human beings? It really is within the spirit of man. It really is within our soul. And this is the part that lives on.
And ultimately the body will be reunited immortal and transformed. And we will be put back together to exist as we were intended to exist. But for right now, in death, the spirit or the soul is what continues on in consciousness. And that soul or that spirit is recognizable. And that is why Peter, James, and John knew that it was Moses and Elijah talking to Christ. This is why the rich man knew that it was Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham – the poor beggar that he didn’t minister to at his doorstep.
So there’s a recognizableness about the spirit of the person. It’s not just a disembodied something, blob of ethereal mass floating around in the universe that’s indefinable. It really is the foundation of who we are. So we really need to let the Scriptures speak to this. We really need to let the Scriptures define this for us.
So just as death is a separation of the soul from the physical body, the death of the soul, ultimately in the second death, will be separation from God. But that again does not mean annihilation. It’s an eternal existence.
Bill: Yeah, that’s actually a fairly awesome and perhaps even horrific thought.
Steve: Well, those are some really key things that we have to get our arms around; that we really have to grasp if we’re really going to understand where we’re going with this. We’re laying foundations for what happens to the people who have departed this life that we look to as the examples for us spiritually who have lived the Christian life, who have departed in faith, who have finished the race, who have kept the faith, and who have departed to be with the Lord. What is their role in our life in communion in Christ that transcends death?
Bill: Now that brings us to the next problem, doesn’t it? Just as we take for granted that we’ve established that death is not annihilation and that it’s not unconsciousness, and we’ve established that the saints are worthy of our example and that they know how to pray and that they know how to be close and to be in communion with the Trinity, well this brings us to the other issue of what we do when we pray.
Steve: Now, when we titled this show, we titled it Prayer to the Saints. And actually, that’s kind of a misguided title. But it’s the term that everybody uses for this practice. It’s the term that everybody uses when we talk about speaking to or sometimes people say invoking the saints, which means when we speak to the departed saints and ask them to pray for us to God.
Bill: Do they hear us?
Steve: Yeah, do they hear us and what is their response? And is that a legitimate thing for us to do? Now, we talked about muddy thinking. We talked about misuse of Scriptural terms and defining Biblical terms in Biblical ways. And I think this is one of those things that we really have to do with the term prayer, Bill.
This has a load of baggage that we need to unpack. And we need to separate the underwear from the socks from the shirts from the swimsuits here, because there’s a lot of things going on with this word, and we need to be sure that we’re using this precisely to talk about this practice that the Orthodox Church has.
What about prayer? What do we mean when we say prayer? How does the Bible define prayer? Let’s take a look at some of these.
Bill: Well, it refers to it as supplications and intercessions. In James 5:15, it says, “Prayer of the faith will save the sick.” And in 1 Thessalonians 5:25, it says, “Pray for us.” In 2 Corinthians 9:14, it talks about supplication and intercession, and it’s essentially asking for something.
Steve: Yeah, and that’s all that means is to ask on behalf of somebody for something. Now Bill, when we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about five other ways in which the term prayer is used in the New Testament. I bet you didn’t know there was about six of them, did you?
Bill: No, I didn’t know. But you’re going to tell me, and we’re going to talk about it.
Steve: Prayer is used in a lot of different ways, and we’re going to separate all these out. And we’re going to talk about which ones we’re talking about when we’re talking about prayer to the saints.
Steve: And welcome back to Our Life in Christ and this final segment on prayer to the saints. And Bill, before the break, we were talking about different ways in which the Scriptures use prayer. And actually, if you go back to the Greek New Testament, and you can break out your Thayer’s or your Vine’s and all of that, and you can find six different words in the Greek that are generally translated in some sense and in some translation as prayer.
But they all have just little variances and nuances of meaning, and some translations do a better job separating those than others.
Bill: We have mentioned supplications and intercessions, so you said you had about five others. Why don’t you get started on that?
Steve: Well, there’s another one in Luke 1:13; Luke 2:37 where it’s talking about fasting and prayer night and day. In Romans 10:21, it talks about our heart’s desire. And in James 5:16, it talks about the effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous man. And this is generally as beseeching, which means a very intense kind of prayer, intercession, or supplication for somebody.
Now, it’s also used in the forms of just petitions or requests or desires. In Matthew 21:22, Jesus says, “Ask in prayer, believing.” So this is just asking God for what you want. There’s no particular ferventness about it, but just kind of a matter of fact kind of thing.
Now, there is a sense where the word is used in terms of worship, but in terms of a liturgical service – not necessarily prayer itself as worship, but just talking about the worship service.
Bill: A collection of prayers.
Steve: Right, a collection of prayers like the Psalms are a collection of prayers. And some of them are worship, and some of them are just supplication and beseeching. In Matthew 21:13, Jesus calls the temple the house of prayer. Acts 2:42 talks about the disciples continuing in the prayers and the breaking of bread. Acts 3:1 talks about the hour of prayer in the temple. And so again, this is talking about the liturgical worship as a collection of prayers that are offered in a place of prayer.
Now, this is the key one here. And I think this is the one we really need to take a look at here, because a lot of times in the Scriptures, prayer just means asking somebody for something and not necessarily God. And all it means is to request or to make a request. Now, you have to go back to the King James for this, and I think this is how the term prayer to the saints got started, because it was a practice and has been a practice of the universal, liturgical churches from the beginning. And next week, we’re going to talk about the Church history and where this began and why and all of that.
But in King James’ English, when they took the word ask, they translated it pray. Now, let’s take a look at some passages where this is used.
Bill: Pray thee, Steve, tell us.
Steve: Exactly. Elizabethan English, Shakespeare. In Luke 4:18, in one of Jesus’ parables, that’s exactly what somebody says to a landowner who invites him to a banquet. He says, “I pray thee, excuse me,” and all he’s saying is, “I’m just asking you to excuse me.” Now, in Acts 10:48, Cornelius prays to Peter to tarry with him. Now, is he worshiping Peter? Is he giving Peter the attribute of deity? No, he’s just asking him to stay on a few days.
In Acts 16:9, the Macedonians call to Paul, and it says, “Praying to Paul, saying please come.” Now, when they’re praying to Paul asking him to come to Macedonia and preach the Gospel, are they worshiping Paul? No. Are they attributing to Paul attributes of deity? No. Are they regarding him as God? No. Are they regarding him as usurping the one mediator between God and man? No. All they’re doing is asking Paul to come over.
Bill: So it would be right to say, “I pray thee, pray for me.” Wouldn’t it?
Steve: Yeah. I pray to you, Bill, to intercede for me. I pray to you, Bill, to pray for me. And that word is used legitimately in both senses in that same sentence. Because we don’t speak Elizabethan English and this term has been carried over into the practice, we get these things muddied up. This is why we’re saying that we have to think straight about this. We really have to know what it is we mean when we say prayer to the saints.
Now, when Paul talks to Felix in Acts 24:4, Paul is talking to Felix who is an unbeliever, and he says, “I pray you give us a brief hearing.” So here is Paul praying to make it quick, but this is King James Biblical language, but it is Biblical language.
And all we’re doing when we pray to the saints and we know the difference between the saints and God, the difference between the saints and Jesus Christ, the difference between a saint and an angel, the difference between a saint and the Holy Spirit, and the difference between a saint and demons, then all we’re doing when praying to a saint who is alive in Christ, conscious of his existence and his relationship to God is to intercede on our behalf before the throne of God.
And that’s all it is is just a request made to that saint. Is it worship? No. Is it looking to that person as usurping the role of Jesus Christ in our lives? Absolutely not. There is one mediator between man and God, and that is Jesus Christ, but we have countless intercessors.
As we pointed out on the second show, intercession is a commandment of God for us to do on behalf of one another, because it fulfills who we are created in the image and likeness of God. And all we’re saying is that image and likeness does not cease to exist, but actually becomes fulfilled after death when we approach the spirits of righteous men made perfect who are now around the throne of God. That’s a huge thing!
Bill: Well, back in December, we had a caller, Jeff, call in and one of the terms he was using when he was talking to us on this and challenging our way of thinking. He said, “If I have Christ, why would I go through anyone else?” And that whole term of going through, what is going through? Well, going through, when we’re talking about prayer, is just asking a saint to pray for us. A mediation of a covenant is an entirely different thing.
Steve: And actually, I don’t think we’re looking at it as going through somebody else, we’re looking at it as going with somebody else. Because when we ask somebody to pray for us, we’re asking them to stand beside us in prayer.
Bill: That’s right. We don’t stop praying either.
Steve: No, no. And sometimes, we don’t find it in ourselves to pray, and we really do need other people to intercede on our behalf, because we’re finding ourselves to spiritually weak to do that for ourselves. And so none of us would deny that we need to intercede for each other; that we do intercede for one another, and that it’s right and it’s godly, and it’s a good thing to ask people to intercede for us.
So when we approach the saints, we are approaching those who are still alive in Christ; who are the righteous men made perfect to do exactly what we are asking our brothers and sisters, who are still alive on earth, to do for us.
Bill: But these sayings, and we’ll make this perfectly clear, do not mediate the covenant of salvation.
Steve: Now Bill, we’ve got about one and a half minutes left, and I was hoping we would get to this this week, but we need to talk about, what does it mean for Christ to be the one Mediator between man and God? What does it mean for Christ to be the sole Mediator between the human race and the Father?
This is again where the thinking gets really, really muddy and really, really jumbled, because we have confused prayer, intercession, request, and mediation. And we need to let the Scriptures define this, so that we can separate them all out – separate the underwear from the socks and the t-shirts and the swimming suits and the pants.
All of these things, if we get them right, there’s not a problem. But it’s when we get these muddy that we cannot do something that we should legitimately be doing in faith, in Christ, for one another, and with one another before the throne of God; in that way encourage one another and grow in Christ and grow in the image and likeness of God.
So next week, Bill, we’re going to talk about the one Mediator. We’re going to talk about Church history, and we’re going to talk about the Old Testament and where this practice of praying to the saints came from. And I think next week, we’ll wrap up this series.
Bill: And there won’t be a Super Bowl next week. That will be over.
Steve: And we’ll also talk about the witch of Endor.
Bill: That’s right. We also need to talk about the witch of Endor.
Steve: Yeah, necromancy stuff. Anyway, have a blessed week. I hope whoever your team is wins today. I’m probably going to hear it on the radio tomorrow. God bless you all. Have a good week.
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