Viktor Yelenskyi's column

Patriarch Bartholomew and his time

27.02.2020, 12:12
Patriarch Bartholomew and his time - фото 1
On the 80th anniversary of the 270th Archbishop of Constantinople — New Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch

On October 2, 1991, Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrius died in the intensive care unit of the American hospital in Istanbul. At one time, no one expected that he would be the successor of the great Patriarch Athenagoras on the throne of Constantinople. But then, in 1972, the mayor of Istanbul used his right and crossed out from the candidate list the most probable, prepared and known within the Church pretender for Patriarchal See, namely, the Metropolitan Meliton (Hadzis) of Chalcedon. It was only thanks to this that Demetrius Papadopoulos became Patriarch Demetrius I (although his patriarchate, we note, was quite dignified). Almost twenty years later history had all chances to repeat itself — the most plausible candidate in October 1991 was Meliton's disciple and his successor at the Metropolitan Cathedra of Chalcedon Bartholomew (Dimitrios Arhondonis). Again, the list of candidates was sent to the Turkish authorities. And, according to their policy of ousting the Ecumenical Patriarchate from Turkey, a dignified candidate could have been crossed out from the dignitaries list.

This did not happen thanks to the 8th President of the Turkish Republic Turgut Özal. "Let our Greek compatriots freely choose a spiritual leader according to their rules and customs," he said to Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz. This is what should happen fairly — 51-year-old Metropolitan Bartholomew Arhondonis, head of the Patriarchal Cabinet, experienced churchmen, well-educated and proficient of Western languages theologian, and expert in Canon law became the 270th Archbishop of Constantinople — New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.



While the "proposed circumstances of the great circle" in which Patriarch Bartholomew began to act were formed by many centuries of history of the throne of Constantinople, the "circumstances of the middle circle" were proposed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate after the end of the First World War. It is believed that these circumstances were recorded in the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923 between the Entente Powers and Turkey. This is not entirely true. The Lausanne Agreements on the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not speak at all, which is easy to check in the Google era.

In fact, the agreement that the Ecumenical Patriarchate would remain in Istanbul and not be expelled outside Turkey as part of the population exchange between the Kemal Ataturk’s state and Greece was verbal. It was given by the chief Turkish negotiator Mustafa Ismet Pasha to Western allies at the Lausanne Conference after the twenty long and exhausting sessions of negotiations. He was the same Ismet Pasha who, two years earlier, had defeated the Greek army near the village of İnönü, took the name of the village for his last name and, fifteen years later, replaced Kemal Ataturk as President of the country.

But the Republic of Turkey has decided to take the Ecumenical Patriarchs with wear and tear. From time to time Patriarchs were not allowed to leave the country, and when they were allowed, they were prevented from returning. The Patriarchate is denied the status of a legal entity, and the Patriarch himself is denied the title of "Ecumenical", for the Turkish authorities he was only the leader of a small Greek religious community. A candidate for the Patriarchal See has to be exclusively a citizen of Turkey, serve in the Turkish army, be a clergyman in Turkey, not outside it, and finally, his candidacy could be rejected by the authorities. Even more: chosen 1924 as the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantine VI was immediately deported from Turkey, because he was a Turkish citizen but not a native of Istanbul. As a result, the pontificate of Constantine lasted only 43 days. On the other hand, it is impossible to train Orthodox clergy in Turkey. The only theological school, which had been operating on Halki Island in the Sea of Marmara since the middle of the XIX century, was closed in 1971.

American presidents, members of European Parliament, cultural figures and foreign ministers of many countries have also supported the reopening of the seminary but the issue is still unresolved.

Bartholomew began his patriarchal ministry at a time when the anti-Turkish accusations of his throne were a common media background and grenades exploded in St. George's Cathedral on Fener. What he did for nearly thirty years of his pontificate, was categorically contrary to the fate that Ismet Pasha had planned for the Ecumenical Patriarchs in 1923: helpless ethnarchs at the head of the fading Greek colony in Istanbul.

The Turkish authorities could ignore the ancient rules of the Councils of the undivided Church, but they could not completely ignore George Bush, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, the European Parliament and the Venice Commission, the U.S. Congress and the Austrian Chancellor, world public opinion after all. Meanwhile, Patriarch Bartholomew has become the most traveling and most recognizable of all Ecumenical Patriarchs. None of his predecessors had collected a similar collection of state awards from various countries ever, prestigious international awards, diplomas and honorary titles, and no one among them did not address and, most importantly, was heard by such influential audiences. Day by day, year by year it rose above the tightness of the ancient Fener quarter within the district of Fatih in Istanbul. So high that they couldn't help but notice it in Ankara. All the more so because the Patriarch proved to be an ardent supporter of Turkish European integration and played not the least role in the removal of Greece's veto on Turkey's accession to the EU in 1999.

In 2002, for the first time within more than eighty years, the Ecumenical Patriarch succeeded in obtaining the appointment to his Holy and Sacred Synod of six metropolitans, who were not yet Turkish citizens, and in 2010, after meeting with Recep Erdoğan, Turkish citizenship was granted to 23 metropolitans of the Church of Constantinople (16 of them were Greek citizens, three were citizens of the US; however, five of them, we must admit, were denied). For the first time, again, permits for the reconstruction of cathedrals were received, and a metropolitan was appointed to ancient Smyrna (Izmir). Bartholomew addressed the Parliamentary Constitutional Commission of Turkey, and The most prestigious Turkish Bosphorus University awarded the Patriarch with honorable doctorate honoris causa addressing to him as to "Ecumenical", not as just "Greek" Patriarch. In 2010 — and again for the first time in Istanbul's history — a demonstration in support of the Ecumenical Patriarch took place. The demonstration, organized by the "70,000,000 steps against conspiracy" coalition, was a response to the uncovering of the "Cage" military coup plan, one part of which was probably the destruction of national and religious minority leaders. Desperate attempts by Russian security services to tie Bartholomew to a coup attempt on July 16, 2016, also failed. Russian media in masses called on the Turkish authorities to arrest the "treacherous feneriot" for his friendship with the outstanding Turkish intellectual Fethulla Gulen, who was urgently declared the inspirer of the putschists. So massively that there was no doubt about the existence of an organizational and coordination center for the attack on Bartholomew. However, it failed to discredit the Patriarch.

Eventually, Turkish diplomatic circles began to speak with caution about the fact that it may not be the Patriarchate that successfully "hooked on to Istanbul", but Turkey was lucky to "hook on to the Patriarchate".


The pontificate of Bartholomew is a tireless development, growth and defense of the Ecumenicity of the Throne of Constantinople. The humility, even the poverty of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the simplicity and accessibility of Bartholomew himself, his openness and unseemly sincerity have won him the sympathy of world elites. To be more precise, the part of it that does not consider such an already virtues of Maybach's car, Breguet watches and armies of fierce body guards.

Academic researches on Patriarch Bartholomew as the Church’s leader seldom goes without mentioning Harvard Professor Joseph Nye and his theory of ‘soft power’. Those power that attracts and empathizes, not the brutal force that enslaves and oppresses. In fact, Patriarch himself defines the Ecumenical Patriarchate as an absolutely spiritual institution, a symbol of reconciliation and "unarmed force". But again, a force on a universal scale, and by no means a force that limits itself to the Hellenistic world. Bartholomew likes to remind that the Roman Empire was a universal entity, not just Hellenistic.

The Patriarch's special attitude towards the environment also comes from a thorough understanding of the ecumenicity. All Christians know that the Earth is the God’s Creation and as such must be preserved by human beings and passed on to future generations intact. But it is Bartholomew who seeks to overcome the supremacy for which Christians are often rebuked by followers of religions, where humanity dissolves in nature, not called to transform and dominate it. Patriarch perceives the Earth as a holistic organism, whose components are inseparable from each other. Hence these famous environmental symposia, which he held in different parts of the world, where the threats to nature looked the greatest: on the Danube and the Amazon basin, the Black Sea and the Arctic.

Патріарх Варфоломій та автор під час екологічної експедиції

Patriarch Bartholomew's critics, mainly Russians, accuse him of ecumenism and Pro-Westernism. It is clear that the Patriarch, whose title is already "ecumenical", because it comes from the Oikumen (οἰκουμένη), i.e. the whole inhabited planet, by definition cannot but seek "the unity of all". Accusers, and even academic ones, literally already in the introduction to their anti-ecumenical texts, speeches and agitation leaflets almost everywhere carry out the substitution. The desire for Christian unity, which is essentially the responsibility of those who are called by Jesus to "be one", they pass off as an intention to yield to doctrinal principles and, in effect, deny the need to testify to the truth.

Perhaps Patriarch Bartholomew is not as radical in his vision of the inevitability of Christian unity and in his condemnation of the separation between Jesus' disciples as Patriarch Athenagoras, who emphasized that "separation between Christians closes access to God". But he does not exactly think that the dividing walls between Christians "reach the Heaven" and that these walls were created by God's hands. His numerous meetings with Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, and other prominent Christian figures did not seem to be a tribute to courtesy, or even an intention to advance in addressing specific problems of the modern world. Each time the Patriarch sought to find an answer to the torturing question: can they, as supporters of Christian unity call this, at least ever "splice the Eucharistic Cup"?

As for Bartholomew's "pro-Westernism", he admits that he and his Church have been placed in a world dominated by Western ideas. But Western civilization in his perception is incomplete without Eastern Christian mysticism, without, as he once said, "a myriad of angels and thousands of saints”. In any case, this civilization is Christian. That is why the omission of the Christian roots of Europe in the Preamble to the draft Constitution of the Old Continent, the debate surrounding which unfolded at the beginning of 21st century, was a serious blow to Bartholomew (as it was for John Paul II). Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow called the Preamble of Constitutional Draft due to unmentioned Christian heritage, what created a gaping historical and philosophical void between the end of the Greco-Roman influence and the beginning of the Enlightenment era, as "cultural vandalism". For Bartholomew, it became not just cultural but axiological vandalism. Because he regards Western civilization as an essentially axiological and built over a certain set of values. These values — human rights and dignity, pluralism, rule of law, democracy — are deeply rooted in the very spirit of Christianity. In this, Bartholomew, by the way, is constantly opposed by Russian theologians and intellectuals who consider such views of the Ecumenical Patriarch "defiantly unorthodox”.

Undoubtedly, what stands behind the Ecumenicity of the Patriarchate of Constantinople are the canons of Ecumenical Councils of the first Millennium. Let me remind you that the Third Canon of the Ecumenical Council in Constantinople (381) accorded to Constantinople place of honor immediately after Rome while Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon (451) went so far as provided Constantinople with the equal honor with the Church of Rome. Canons 9th and 17th stipulate that the Bishop of Constantinople is the final court of appeal for all disputes and problems among the clergy, including bishoprics and metropolises. The primacy of honor (at least honor) of Constantinople has never been questioned in the Orthodox world. This primacy was not broken even in Ottoman times when Patriarchs were strangled, drowned and hung at the Patriarchy’s gates and the masters of the throne were changed with kaleidoscopic speed. But no one else has been approached by Tsar Peter I as Patriarch of Constantinople Jeremiah with the request to recognize newly established Most Holy Synod instead of abolished Patriarchy. Similarly, no one else but Ecumenical Patriarch was asked by Tsar to cancel a fast’s observances for his soldiers during the 1711 Prut campaign. Worthy to add that the conditions for the establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate in 16th century were the recognition "in the head and at the beginning of everything" of the throne of Constantinople (the recognition of the primacy of Constantinople was also conditioned by Tomoses granted to the Georgian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Albanian and other local Orthodox churches).

In fact, only two Russian rulers questioned the authority of Constantinople in the Orthodox world. The first was Stalin, who began to design a pan-Orthodox project with its center in Moscow. It is clear that the Ecumenical Patriarch did not want to participate in such an enterprise, and the Moscow Patriarchate was ordered to canonically justify the alleged insignificance and archaic nature of the claims to the primacy of Constantinople. But the title of Ecumenical Moscow Patriarch, of course, could not get; Stalin was disappointed with the very possibility of using the ROC for global domination and cooled down to this project (which, incidentally, immediately and negatively affected the position of the Russian Church itself).

The second was Putin, who did not burden himself with the canonical surveys, but simply accused the Ecumenical Patriarch that he “wants to make a profit from Ukrainian Church subjugation". Bartholomew has repeatedly stated that he does not want to create a sort of a "second Vatican", and in no case claims any earthly power or Papal infallibility. However, Orthodoxy desperately needs a center of consent. And a moderator who would be able to approach with an open mind the problems that arise hourly in inter-Orthodox and intra-Orthodox relations. The number of such problems has increased exponentially since the fall of Communism. Frozen by the bipolar division of the world and totalitarian regimes, these problems exploded with stunning power. The Bartholomew’s pontificate became the time of restoration of the Autonomous Orthodox Church in Estonia, granting Tomos the Orthodox Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia, revival literally from the ashes of the Albanian Orthodox Church, solution of problems of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches in the USA and Canada, settlement of the Bulgarian crisis and issues related to the displacement of the Jerusalem Patriarch Irinej.


The culmination of the Ecumenicity developing by the Patriarch Bartholomew, the central point in an expression of his responsibility for the fullness of Orthodoxy was the convening of the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church in June 2016. And perhaps this outstanding event appeared to be in fact the most dramatic within all years of his pontificate.

It is clear that after the Great Schism of 1054 the Council convened by the Patriarch of Constantinople cannot be Ecumenical. But the very idea of the Council, which would have gathered at least all the Local Orthodox Churches for the first time since 787, was born already a century and a half ago. After all, the Council is both the center of the identity of Eastern Orthodoxy and the manifestation of this identity. Without the conciliarity there is no salvation, would have said Patriarch Bartholomew at the Council’s opening. The Pan Orthodox Council was hindered by the Ottoman Empire, world and regional wars, communism and nationalism, governments and endless competitions “over the glory” between the Orthodox churches. The enormously long list of issues that the Great and Holy Council (and only Council) had to deal with was constantly shrinking. Until the 1970s it was reduced to ten points, while by 2016 there were already only six. Preparations for the Council became a long and confusing detective.

But Bartholomew was obsessed with Pan Orthodox Council; he was extremely persistent and, at the same time, ready for the most serious compromises. Thus the most painful issues — diptychs, diaspora, calendar — disappeared from the Council's agenda one day after another. Furthermore, at Moscow's insistence, the method of declaring autocephaly was also crossed out of the Great and Holy Council's problematic catalogue. Thus the most painful issues — diptychs, diaspora, calendar — disappeared from the Councils one day after another. At Moscow's insistence, the method of declaring autocephaly was also crossed out of the catalogue of questions. "There will never be more autocephaly in the world ... What Kyiv wants to get, it will never get", — solemnly declared president of the entirely pro-Kremlin International Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations and 2nd class State Advisor of the Russian Federation Valery A. Alekseev.

The future Council was becoming less and less like the Ecumenical Councils of the first millennium. This became finally clear when Primates of Local Churches decided to adopt all decisions of upcoming Council by consensus (just imagine the consensus between Alexander Alexandria and Arias at the Council of Nicaea).

Meanwhile, in late 2015, a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber that it sad had strayed into Turkish air space while attacking Syrian rebels. Patriarch of Moscow warned that it would be impossible for the Russian Church to participate in the Council if it would be held in Turkey. Finally, a decision was reached to hold the Council in Crete. And still, the Antiochian, Bulgarian, Georgian and Russian Churches almost at the last moment decided not to come to the Council. Despite this blow, the Holy and Great Council in Crete has taken place. Bartholomew chaired its meetings, delivered a vivid opening speech, and demanded that the rules of procedure be observed. But even theologians and observers who were optimistic about the Council admitted that the main thing about the Council was only that it took place as such. But the Council did not dare to redefine the frozen agenda and come out into the world with bold solutions to real problems — those that affect ordinary Orthodox believers as well as those that concern entire nations.

The problems were buried under indisputable, but not too substantial and banal formulations. Something was left to the Local Churches’ considerations, but the vast majority of difficult issues were embarrassingly avoided. Six dozen times Council's Fathers have mentioned the word "peace" in Council documents, but nor any single word on the blatant fact that one Orthodox country is carrying out armed aggression against other Orthodox countries. The Council showed with ruthless seriousness that the age of "un-conciliar separation" and the bugaboo of "Eastern Papism," which appears as soon as real steps are taken towards the unity and conciliarity of the Orthodox Church, blurred the very essence of the Eastern Orthodoxy. It turns out that "boundless Autocephalism" appeared to be a more important than sobornist’; that the decision of the bishop of Moscow, Tbilisi or Sofia exceeds the 41st Canon of the Council of Laodicea, prohibiting the bishop to ignore the call to come to the Council. It turns out that within each diocese and each Local Church is a bishop, who is endowed with real power and real power assures the functioning of this or that canonical unit. And if in the Orthodox Church, which is not a confederation or even a federation of Local Churches, what is constantly reminded by Orthodox theologians, there is no such a bishop, it makes simply impossible to implement the principle of the conciliarity. Local Churches are inevitably scattered around "national apartments", and decisions that wait hundreds of years are postponed for centuries to come.

Патріархи Варфоломій і Кирил


Obviously, it was precisely these reasons, and not just an offense to Moscow, which tried to cross out decades of work to convene the Holy and Great Council and abuse the Patriarch himself, that moved Bartholomew when he began to solve the Ukrainian question. Around this question, Constantinople and Moscow broke many a lance and every time when Constantinople insisted on its view over the Ukrainian question, Moscow nervously demanded to leave her "internal affair" alone. Even a cursory look at the rhetoric and actions of the Ecumenical Patriarch toward Ukraine within the end of 20th — the beginning of this century proves that Bartholomew's decision on Ukrainian autocephaly is unlikely to look spontaneous. Constantinople repeatedly stated that the alienation from the Ecumenical throne of the Kyiv Metropolitanate in 1686 "was not carried out in accordance with the legal canonical prescriptions"; that Constantinople recognized the ROC within the boundaries defined by the Charter bestowed to Moscow in 1593 (i.e. without the Kyiv Metropolitanate); that only Constantinople can grant autocephaly to any Orthodox Church, but Moscow needs to overcome its part of the way in the case of the Kyiv Metropolitanate, which it had illegally appropriated. For more than a quarter of a century, Patriarch Bartholomew has been watching developments in Ukraine, hosting Ukrainian presidents, prime ministers, and members of parliament and pretending not to understand that the Moscow Patriarchate is trying to drown out a real dialogue on the Ukrainian issue in endless and useless commissions and working groups. In 2008, Patriarch Bartholomew decided that the time had come for a decisive step. This step would be to restore the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Throne over the Metropolitanate of Kyiv; to merge the UOC KP and UAOC; Filaret's renunciation of his patriarchal office; to elect three candidates for the Kyiv See by the Ukrainian bishops, of whom Bartholomew would have to choose the Metropolitanate of Kyiv. But the Primate of the UOC CP rejected this plan. "Thus, Patriarch Filaret... ...unwittingly helped Moscow in its confrontation with Constantinople", — gladly stated the Textbook for students of theological schools of the Russian Orthodox Church.

However, the year 2008 scared Moscow pretty much. Patriarch Bartholomew found himself under the close watch of the Russian state. Russian diplomacy, intelligence and media systematically tried to discredit him in the eyes of the Turkish government and the Orthodox world, to intimidate and bribe. No instrument of pressure seemed excessive to the Russian authorities, because as the head of the sector at the Russian Institute for the Strategic Studies aptly pointed in 2013, "at any time ... Patriarch Bartholomew may be referring to the illegality of the 1686 Charter about the transfer of the Kyiv Metropolitanate to the canonical jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, state his claims to the governing of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine". And yet, in the spring of 2018, Moscow church circles and their propagandists were first skeptical about the appeal of the hierarchs of the UOC CP and UAOC, the President and Verkhovna Rada to Patriarch Bartholomew with a request to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Turkey will not allow accomplishing such a scenario, they stated, Turkish government relies on Russia in a lot of urgent spheres (rockets SS-400, "South Stream" and a stream of tourists, Syria and sale of tomatoes, etc.); in Russia anyway, there is more money while "ingratiating Greeks" are easily bribed; Bartholomew anyway will refuse Ukrainians as always, Russian analysts asserted, simply will rush to buying more concessions from Moscow. But closer to autumn, a hubris was replaced by panic. The methods of the Russian security services and the corporate style of Russian diplomacy — lying, scaring and pressure — have come out everywhere. And to the last moment, Moscow hoped that Patriarch Bartholomew would not do what he did. That he would not restore his jurisdiction over the Kyiv Metropolitanate and would not extradite Tomos about autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

... None of the separately considered reasons explains why Bartholomew did it in 2018 and why he did it at all. As for the money and intrigue of the U.S. State Department, one can dismiss these reasons out of hand. Russia openly proposed to Bartholomew generously "to solve the financial problems of the Church of Constantinople" and also openly intimidated him with serious and very serious financial problems even in case of "flirting with the Ukrainian schismatic". By the most conservative estimates, the funds that Russia spent on countering Ukrainian autocephaly would have been enough to support all Eastern patriarchs for a long time. As for the US support to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, both Bartholomew and his predecessors Athenagoras and Dimitry have never lacked it in their previous years. U.S. Presidents, State Secretaries and foreign policy peoples have always emphasized that they see them as leaders of the Orthodox world and have always advocated interests of Constantinople before the Turkish government.

На початку проце надання Томоса

Obviously, in 2018, several key factors came together that prompted the Patriarch's determination.

First of all, it was the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine — an event that greatly astonished Bartholomew, despite the fact that he hardly ever had any illusions about Moscow's peacefulness.

Obviously, in 2018, several key factors came together that prompted the Patriarch's determination.

First of all, it was the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine — an event that greatly astonished Bartholomew, despite the fact that he hardly ever had any illusions about Moscow's peacefulness.

The second reason was the extremely harsh and demonstratively categorical refusal of the Moscow Patriarchate to resolve the Ukrainian issue. Despite vague, but still, the promises of Patriarch Alexy II, which he gave to Bartholomew in Kyiv in 2008 over the possible solution of Ukrainian issue, Patriarch Kirill did not tire of repeating: for Ukraine – no way, never and nothing.

Bartholomew was also prompted by the decline of the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate and its leader with the beginning of the war and outrage at the actions of Patriarch Kirill — he, as one priest of the UOC MP said in his heart, may and remains our lord, but not the father.

Further, he saw the readiness, determination and unanimity of the Ukrainian government in the period 2014-2019 to fight for autocephaly of the Ukrainian Church and the great support of the Ukrainian society for this position. In addition, Russia's outright hostility towards the Ecumenical Patriarchate has finally acquired the character of state policy. Attempts to bind Bartholomew in the organization of the 2016 putsch, to disrupt the All Orthodox Council, to implement Stalin's plans to transfer the center of Orthodoxy in Moscow convinced the Patriarch of the need to move to the offensive.

And finally, the last thing is that in our cynical time few people want to take into account. The Patriarch has repeatedly stressed that Ukraine is in his heart, that the stay of her sons and daughters behind the canon wall hurts him and he is constantly thinking about solving this problem in the spirit of Christian love.

This was taken into account by a few people, many thought it was the usual Byzantine rhetoric. You shouldn't have.

Патріарх Варфоломій і Україна


Patriarch Bartholomew is a history, a vivid history. History of the Throne of Constantinople, the Ecumenicity of which he so consistently and effectively defends and occupies longer than all his predecessors (connoisseurs may recall the bishop Titus, who ruled 30 years — from 242 to 272, but he was the bishop of Byzantium, not the archbishop of Constantinople).

History of Eastern Orthodoxy, for the unity of which he tirelessly fought, and the two Local Orthodox Churches to which he bestowed Tomos on autocephaly.

History of Ukraine, in the textbooks of which he has already entered.

However, do not be hasty, to sum up — Bartholomew is still in his Patriarchal Office. His pontificate is continuing.

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