Monastic Republic of Mount Athos
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The Monastic Republic of Mount Athos (Greek: Αυτόνομη Μοναστική Πολιτεία Αγίου Όρους, Autónomi Monastikí Politeía Agíou Órous, lit. 'Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain') is a region of northern Greece around the Mount Athos peninsula, in Chalkidiki, enjoying a status of autonomy comparable to the peripheries (Greek administrative regions).
Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain
Αυτόνομη Μοναστική Πολιτεία Αγίου Όρους
|Elder Symeon of Dionysiou|
|336 km2 (130 sq mi)|
• 2009 estimate
|Today part of||Greece|
It brings together twenty monasteries and the different villages and houses that depend on them. They house around 2,000 Eastern Orthodox Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian and other monks who lead a life of seclusion, introspection and prayer, in a landscape on the mountain, sometimes called "Christian Tibet".
The twenty monasteries are stavropegic, that is to say exempt: they escape the authority of the local bishop and are placed directly under the sole episcopal responsibility of the Ecumenical Patriarch. On the political and administrative level, it is the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs which manages, on behalf of the Hellenic Republic, questions relating to the peninsula, which is a Greek territory, but where different laws apply, compatible with the Abaton: this difference is constitutionally guaranteed.
The icon of the Mother of God called Axion estin which usually sits behind the altar of the Protaton church of Karyès, as hegumene of all the Holy Mountain, is occasionally shown at big Greek cities where it receives honors comparable to those reserved by a head of state.
Since 1990, the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos has experienced a spiritual renewal thanks to a regular influx of young people, often graduates and from the former Soviet bloc, which dramatically increased the number of monks and novices. Initially, eleven monasteries followed the same rule of Saint Sabbas, common to Eastern Orthodox monasticism (cenobitic monasteries); in nine others the monks each formulated and followed their own rules (idiorrythmic monasteries). Between 1970 and 1990, all the monasteries finally adopted a cenobitic community system.
The access of "any female creature" is strictly forbidden, so as not to tempt the monks; however, it is understood that this edict only concerns domestic vertebrate creatures, with two exceptions: hens (for eggs, used in cooking and in sacred painting) and cats (to hunt rodents).
The territory of the Monastic Republic is contiguous to the Greek municipality of Stagira-Akanthos, from which it is separated by a fence of about nine kilometers long. The small village of Karyes is the administrative center and the seat of the synod: there, there are lay people in the service of the Republic.
The monasteries of Mount Athos have a history of opposing ecumenism, or movements towards reconciliation between the Orthodox Church of Constantinople and the Roman Catholic Church. The Esphigmenou monastery is particularly outspoken in this respect, having raised black flags to protest against the meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople and Pope Paul VI in 1972. Esphigmenou was subsequently expelled from the representative bodies of the Athonite Community. The conflict escalated in 2002 with Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople declaring the monks of Esphigmenou an illegal brotherhood and ordering their eviction; the monks refused to be evicted, and the Patriarch ordered a new brotherhood to replace them.
After reaching a low point of just 1,145 mainly elderly monks in 1971, the monasteries have been undergoing a steady and sustained renewal. By the year 2000, the monastic population had reached 1,610, with all 20 monasteries and their associated sketes receiving an infusion of mainly young well-educated monks. In 2009, the population stood at nearly 2,000. Many younger monks possess university education and advanced skills that allow them to work on the cataloging and restoration of the Mountain's vast repository of manuscripts, vestments, icons, liturgical objects and other works of art, most of which remain unknown to the public because of their sheer volume. Projected to take several decades to complete, this restorative and archival work is well under way, funded by UNESCO and the EU, and aided by many academic institutions. The history of the modern revival of monastic life on Mount Athos and its entry into the technological world of the twenty-first century has been chronicled in Graham Speake's book, now in its second edition, Mount Athos. Renewal in Paradise.
In 2018, Mount Athos became an issue within the increasingly tense Greece-Russia relations. The Greek government denied entry to Russian clerics headed for the monastery, and the media reported allegations that the Russian government used the mountain as a base for intelligence operations. Relations were worsened in October after the Russian Orthodox Church banned its adherents from visiting sites controlled by Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, which includes Mount Athos.
Administration and organizationEdit
According to the constitution of Greece, Mount Athos (the "Monastic State of Agion Oros") is, "following ancient privilege", "a self-governed part of the Greek State, whose sovereignty thereon shall remain intact", and consists of 20 main monasteries which constitute the Sacred Community, and the capital town and administrative centre, Karyes, also home to a Civil Governor as the representative of the Greek state. The governor is an executive appointee. The status of the Holy Mountain and the jurisdiction of the Agiorite institutions were expressly described and ratified upon admission of Greece to the European Union (then the European Community).
Athos is governed by the "Sacred Community" (Ιερά Κοινότητα – Hiera Koinotēta) which consists of the representatives of the 20 Holy Monasteries, having as executive committee the four-membered "Sacred Administration" (Ιερά Επιστασία – Hiera Epistasia), with the Protos (Πρώτος) being its head, while the current Protos or more correctly "Protepistátēs" is the Elder Symeon Dionysiates.
Civil authorities are represented by the Civil Governor, appointed by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose main duty is to supervise the function of the institutions and the public order. The current Civil Governor is Athanasios Martinos.
In each of the 20 monasteries – which today all follow again the coenobitic system – the administration is in the hands of the Abbot (Ηγούμενος – Hēgoumenos) who is elected by the brotherhood for life. He is the lord and spiritual father of the monastery. The Convention of the brotherhood (Γεροντία) is the legislative body. All the other establishments (sketes, cells, huts, retreats, hermitages) are dependencies of some of the 20 monasteries and are assigned to the monks by a document called homologon (ομόλογον).
All persons leading a monastic life thereon acquire Greek citizenship without further formalities, upon admission as novices or monks. Visits to the peninsula are possible for laymen, but they need a special permit known as a diamonētērion (διαμονητήριον), similar to a visa.
Of the 20 monasteries located on the Holy Mountain, the brethren of 17 are predominantly ethnically Greek. Of the other 3, brethren are drawn from monks of primarily other origins, who become Greek subjects. These are the Helandariou Monastery (Serbian), the Zografou Monastery (Bulgarian) and the Agiou Panteleimonos monastery (Russian).
Among the sketes, most are predominantly ethnic Greek. However, two are Romanian, the coenobitic "Skētē Timiou Prodromou" (which belongs to the Megistis Lavras Monastery) and the idiorrhythmic "Skētē Agiou Dēmētriou tou Lakkou", also called "Lakkoskētē" (which belongs to the Agiou Pavlou monastery). Another one is Russian, "Skētē Bogoroditsa" (which belongs to the Agiou Panteleimonos monastery).
The self-governed region of the Holy Mountain, according to the Decree passed by the Holy Community on 3 October 1913 and according to the international treaties of London (1913), Bucharest (1913), Neuilly (1919), Sèvres (1920) and Lausanne (1923), is considered part of the Greek state. The Decree, "made in the presence of the Holy Icon of Axion Estin", stated that the Holy Community recognised the Kings of Greece as the lawful sovereigns and "successors on the Mountain" of the "Emperors who built" the monasteries and declared its territory as belonging to the then Kingdom of Greece.
Political instability in Greece during the mid-20th century that affected Mount Athos included Nazi occupation from the Easter season of 1941 through late 1944, followed immediately by the Greek Civil War in a struggle where Communist efforts failed. The Battle of Greece was reported in Time magazine, "The Stukas swooped across the Aegean skies like dark, dreadful birds, but they dropped no bombs on the monks of Mount Athos".
After the Nazi takeover of Greece, the Epistassia, Athos's four-member executive committee, formally asked Adolf Hitler to place the Autonomous Monastic State under his personal protection, and Hitler agreed. Mount Athos survived World War II nearly untouched, and for the remainder of the war, the monks of Mount Athos referred to Hitler as "High Protector of the Holy Mountain" (German: Hoher Protektor des heiligen Berges).[better source needed]
Later a "Special Double Assembly" of the Holy Community in Karyes passed the constitutional charter of the Holy Mountain, which was ratified by the Greek Parliament. This regime originates from the "self-ruled monastic state" as stated on a chrysobull parchment signed and sealed by the Byzantine Emperor Ioannis Tzimisces in 972. This important document is preserved in the House of the Holy Administration in Karyes. The self-rule of the Holy Mountain was later reaffirmed by the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos in 1095.
Prohibition on entry for womenEdit
There is a prohibition on entry for women, called avaton (Άβατον) in Greek, to make living in celibacy easier for men who have chosen to do so. Monks feel that the presence of women alters the social dynamics of the community and therefore slows their path towards spiritual enlightenment. The ban was officially proclaimed by several emperors, including Constantine Monomachos, in a chrysobull of 1046.
In the 14th century, Serbian Emperor Dušan the Mighty brought his wife, Helena of Bulgaria, to Mount Athos to protect her from the plague, but she did not touch the ground during her entire visit, as she was carried in a hand carriage all the time.
There was an incident in the 1930s regarding Aliki Diplarakou, the first Greek beauty pageant contestant to win the Miss Europe title, who made headlines when she dressed up as a man and snuck into Mount Athos. Her escapade was discussed in a 13 July 1953 Time magazine article entitled "The Climax of Sin".
On 26 May 2008, five Moldovans illegally entered Greece by way of Turkey, ending up on Athos; four of the migrants were women. The monks forgave them for trespassing and informed them that the area was forbidden to females.
Female domestic animals such as cows or sheep are also barred, except for female cats.
Status in the European UnionEdit
As part of an EU member state, Mount Athos is part of the European Union and, for the most part, subject to EU law. While outside the EU's Value Added Tax area, Mount Athos is part of the Schengen Area. A declaration attached to Greece's accession treaty to the Schengen Agreement states that Mount Athos's "special status" should be taken into account in the application of the Schengen rules. The monks strongly objected to Greece joining the Schengen Area based on fears that the EU would be able to end the centuries-old prohibition on the admittance of women. The prohibition is unchanged and a special permit is required to enter the peninsula. The monks were also concerned that the agreement could affect their traditional right to offer sanctuary to people from Orthodox countries such as Russia. Such monks do nowadays need a Greek visa and permission to stay, even if that is given generously by the Greek ministry, based on requests from Athos.
Greek is commonly used in all the Greek monasteries, but in some monasteries there are other languages in use: in Agiou Panteleimonos, Russian (67 monks in 2011); in Helandariou Monastery, Serbian (58); in Zographou Monastery and Skiti Bogoroditsa, Bulgarian (32); and in the sketes of Timiou Prodromou and Lakkoskiti, Romanian (64). Today, many of the Greek monks also speak foreign languages. Since there are monks from many nations in Athos, they naturally also speak their own native languages.
Monastic life: monasteries, sketae, and cellsEdit
Today the 20 monasteries of Mount Athos are the dominant holy institutions for both spiritual and administrative purposes, consolidated by the Constitutional Chart of the Holy Mountain. Although, since the beginning of Mount Athos' history, monks were living in lodgings of different size and construction quality. All these monastic lodging types exist until today, named as seats (καθίσματα), cells (κελλιά), huts (καλύβες), retreats (ησυχαστήρια), hermitages (ερημιτήρια), caves (σπήλαια), sketai (σκήτες) and all of them are known under the general term "dependencies" (εξαρτήματα) of the Holy Monasteries. The term "cells" can be used under a more generalised meaning, comprising all the above but sketae, and following this term we can talk about three different kind of institutions in Mount Athos: monasteries, sketae and cells.
A pilgrim/visitor to a monastery, who is accommodated in the guest-house (αρχονταρίκι) can have a taste of the monastic life in it by following its daily schedule: praying (services in church or in private), common dining, working (according to the duties of each monk) and rest. During religious celebrations usually long vigils are held and the entire daily program is radically reshaped. The gate of the monastery closes by sunset and opens again by sunrise.
A cell is a house with a small church, where 1–3 monks live under the spiritual and administrative supervision of a monastery. Monastic life in the cells is totally different from that in a monastery. Some of the cells resemble tidy farmhouses, others are poor huts, others have the gentility of Byzantine tradition or of Russian architecture of the past century. Usually, each cell possesses a piece of land for agricultural or other use. Each cell has to organize some activities for income.
Besides the traditional occupations (agriculture, fishing, woodcarving, spirit distillation, iconography, tailoring, book binding etc.) new occupations have been taken up, for example taxi driving, couriers, car repairing and computer services. The monk(s) living in a cell, having to take care of all daily chores, make up their own schedules. For the pilgrim/visitor it is worth experiencing this side of monastic life as well, but most of the cells have very limited or no capacity for hospitality.
Small communities of neighbouring cells were developed since the beginning of monastic life on Mount Athos and some of them were using the word "skete" (σκήτη) meaning "monastic settlement" or "lavra" (λαύρα) meaning "monastic congregation". The word "skete" is of Coptic origin and in its original form is a placename of a location in the Egyptian desert. It is in the Egyptian desert where monasticism made its first steps.
The unknown author of the "History of the Egyptian Monks" (Historia Monachorum in Aegypto), perhaps Flavius Rufinus, visited the area at the end of the fourth century. He tells us: "Then we came to Nitria, the best-known of all monasteries of Egypt, about forty miles [60 km] from Alexandria; it takes its name from a nearby town where Nitre is collected... In this place there are about fifty dwellings, or not many less, set near together and under one father. In some of them, there are many living together, in others a few and in some there are brothers who live alone. Though they are divided by their dwellings they remain bound together and inseparable in faith and love". This is exactly the main idea of a "skete", the communal way, just between the eremitic way and the coenobitic way of monasticism, with all 3 coexisting until today.
In 1680 the ex-patriarch Dionysios III Vardalis built in the Saint Anne skete of the Holy Mountain a big central church to accommodate all the monks of the area and in 1689 an internal regulatory text was constituted by the monks and ratified first by the Monastery of Megisti Lavra and finally by the patriarch Dionysios V Haritonidis; and later again by patriarch Cyril V, who contributed in its evolution. Since then, more sketes followed on the same way, and gradually the term "skete" (within the Holy Mountain) came to be used only for the monastic settlements having an internal rule ratified by the Patriarchate.
Later on, some cells came to attract many monks, expanded their buildings and started functioning in the coenobitic way of the monasteries. Since the number of the Monasteries in Mount Athos was restricted to 20, a new term was introduced: the coenobitic skete (κοινόβιος σκήτη), while a skete of the traditional form was named idiorhythmic skete (ιδιόρρυθμος σκήτη) in order to underline the difference.
The first ones, both in architecture and lifestyle, follow the typical model of a monastery, that of a community living together, sharing and distributing work, and praying together daily. In contrast, the idiorrhythmic community (intermediary between the coenobitic community and the seclusion of a hermit) resembles a hamlet, and the daily life there is much like that of a cell. But there are also some duties for the community. Near the centre of the settlement is the central church called Kyriakon (Κυριακόν, that could be translated "for Sunday"), where the whole brotherhood meets for the Divine Liturgy service, on Sundays and on greater feasts. Usually there are also an administration house, a refectory for common celebrations, a cemetery, a library, storehouses and a guesthouse.
Culture and life in the Athonite RepublicEdit
Art and literary treasuresEdit
The Athonite monasteries possess huge deposits of invaluable medieval art treasures, including icons, liturgical vestments and objects (crosses, chalices), codices and other Christian texts, imperial chrysobulls, holy relics etc. However the monks consider them for their religious function only, not as "treasures" and most are in regular use for their original purpose. Until recently no organized study and archiving had been carried out, but an EU-funded effort to catalogue, protect and restore them is underway since the late 1980s. Their sheer number is such, it is estimated that several decades will pass before the work is completed.
Date and time reckoningEdit
The Julian calendar, which currently has a difference of 13 days from the Gregorian calendar, is still used on Mount Athos. In 1923, as a means to eliminate the divergence existing between the religious and civil dates, after a synod in Constantinople, part of the Eastern Orthodox Churches dropped 13 days and adopted the Revised Julian calendar, which is synchronised with the Gregorian calendar, at least until 2800.[note 1] Although under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the spiritual head of the monastic state, nearly all the monasteries of Athos refused to follow the revised calendar and finally, for the sake of uniformity, the patriarch asked the single monastery that used the revised calendar to revert to the Julian.
Also in use is Byzantine time, in which the day commences at sunset as does the liturgical day[note 2] and not at midnight as in the reckoning of civil time, and the difference between the two varies according to the season of the year. Because the time interval from sundown to sundown is not constant, clocks showing the Byzantine time require continual manual readjusting which in current practice is done weekly, on Saturday, if the sky is clear; where the summit of Athos is visible, 12:00 is set when the last rays of sunlight cease to shine on the tip. Some monasteries also have a clock showing civil time since boat schedules run thereon (and on the civil calendar) as well as for pilgrims who may be disoriented by Byzantine time reckoning.
List of religious institutionsEdit
The sovereign monasteries, in the order of their place in the Athonite hierarchy:
|Great Lavra monastery||Vatopedi monastery||Iviron monastery||Helandariou monastery||Dionysiou monastery|
ივერთა მონასტერი (Georgian)
|Koutloumousiou monastery||Pantokratoros monastery||Xeropotamou monastery||Zografou monastery||Docheiariou monastery|
|Karakalou monastery||Filotheou monastery||Simonos Petras monastery||Agiou Pavlou monastery||Stavronikita monastery|
|Καρακάλλου||Φιλοθέου||Σίμωνος Πέτρα||Αγίου Παύλου||Σταυρονικήτα|
|Xenophontos monastery||Osiou Grigoriou monastery||Esphigmenou monastery||Agiou Panteleimonos monastery||Konstamonitou monastery|
|Ξενοφώντος||Οσίου Γρηγορίου||Εσφιγμένου||Αγίου Παντελεήμονος
A skete is a community of Christian hermits following a monastic rule, allowing them to worship in comparative solitude, while also affording them a level of mutual practical support and security. There are two kinds of sketes in Mount Athos. A coenobitic skete follows the style of monasteries. An idiorrhythmic skete follows the style of a small village: it has a common area of worship (a church), with individual hermitages or small houses around it, each one for a small number of occupants. There are twelve official sketes on Mount Athos.
|Skiti / Σκήτη||Type||Monastery||Alternative names / notes|
|Idiorrhythmic||Megistis Lavras||(= Saint Anne)
|Agias Triados or Kafsokalyvíon
Αγίας Τριάδος ή Καυσοκαλυβίων
|Idiorrhythmic||Megistis Lavras||(= Holy Trinity)
Kafsokalývia (="burned huts")
|Coenobitic||Megistis Lavras||(= Holy Fore-runner, i.e. St John the Baptist)
Prodromu, Sfântul Ioan Botezătorul – Romanian
|Coenobitic||Vatopediou||(= Saint Andrew)
Also known as Saray (Σαράι)
|Idiorrhythmic||Vatopediou||(= Saint Demetre)
|Timiou Prodromou Iviron
Τιμίου Προδρόμου Ιβήρων
|Idiorrhythmic||Iviron||(= Holy Forerunner, i.e. St John the Baptist)
|Idiorrhythmic||Koutloumousiou||(= Saint Panteleimon/Pantaleon)
|Coenobitic||Pantokratoros||(= Prophet Elijah)|
|Theotokou or Nea Skiti
Θεοτόκου ή Νέα Σκήτη
|Idiorrhythmic||Agiou Pavlou||(=Of God-Bearer or New Skete)|
|Agiou Dimitriou tou Lakkou or Lakkoskiti
Αγίου Δημητρίου του Λάκκου ή Λακκοσκήτη
|Idiorrhythmic||Agiou Pavlou||(= Saint Demetre of the Ravine or Ravine-Skete)
Lacu, Sfântul Dumitru – Romanian
|Evangelismou tis Theotokou
Ευαγγελισμού της Θεοτόκου
|Idiorrhythmic||Xenophontos||(= Annunciation of Theotokos)
|Coenobitic||Agiou Panteleimonos||(= Theotokos, God-Bearer)
Богородица – Bulgarian
The Friends of Mount Athos (FoMA) is a society formed in 1990 by people who shared a common interest for the monasteries of Mount Athos, and a registered charity in the U.K. (Registered Charity No. 1047287). Timothy Ware, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, is the President of the society. Among its members are Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Charles, Prince of Wales, Heir Apparent to the British throne, who is the royal patron of the society. Although founded in the U.K., the society has an extensive international membership, including a large membership in the Americas.
The objective of the society, as stated on its official web page, is described as: "the advancement of education of the public in the study and knowledge of the history, culture, arts, architecture, natural history, and literature of the Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos and the promotion of the religious and other charitable work of the Holy Community and monasteries of Mount Athos." To that end, the society works to advance education by studying and providing information on the history, culture, arts, architecture, natural history, and literature of Mount Athos. To achieve this, it produces publications, arranges lectures, and organizes conferences and exhibitions devoted to Athonite themes.
The society also supports and promotes the religious and other charitable work of the monasteries and their dependencies as well as other religious communities with links to the Holy Mountain. FoMA acts as a group of concerned friends and supporters, providing assistance where possible, in consultation with the monastic authorities. Appeals may be launched from time to time if funds are needed for specific purposes, but the assistance mainly takes the form of expertise, liaison, or equipment needed by the monks. The society's American membership founded in 2017 a parallel charitable foundation, The Mount Athos Foundation of America.
As a service to the monasteries and to pilgrims, the society clears and maintains the ancient footpaths of Mount Athos, many of the stone-paved (Kalderimi) paths dating back to the Byzantine era. It also provides on its website detailed footpath descriptions with GPS tracks, and a regularly updated report on the condition of the paths. FoMA member and cartographer, Peter Howorth of Christchurch, New Zealand, working with the society's footpath team, has recently published a new Pilgrim Map which incorporates modern mapping technology with study of early maps of Mount Athos.
Among the society's publications are its annual bulletin (Friends of Mount Athos Annual Report) offering articles, book reviews and other features related to Mount Athos. Past issues are available from the society's web site. It also publishes A Pilgrim's Guide to Mount Athos in both printed and continuously updated digital forms, as well as a yearly directory of members.
- However, the Easter date, based on the lunar cycle, is still calculated following the original Julian calendar, making the Eastern Orthodox world celebrate Easter on the same day.
- In accordance with Old Testament practice, the day is considered to begin in the evening (Genesis 1:5).
- "Η αλλαγή Ιεράς Επιστασίας στο Άγιο Όρος- Η Αγιορείτικη τελετή που έχει παλαιές ρίζες- Πλούσιο Φωτογραφικό υλικό". June 14, 2019.
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- Sack, John (1959). Report from Practically Nowhere. New York: Curtis Publishing Company. pp. 148–149.
- The Climax of Sin Archived 14 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine, Time Magazine, 1953
- "Women Invade Athos Despite 1,000-Year Ban". The New York Times. 26 April 1953. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
- "European Parliament resolution on the situation concerning basic rights in the European Union". European Parliament. 15 January 2003. pp. Equality between men and women § , 98. Retrieved 6 September 2008.
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- The Greek not accession treaty does not specifically exclude Mount Athos from the Convention's territorial scope.
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- Variant names: Skiathis – Sketis – Skithis – Skitis – Skete – Oros Nitrias (Nitria) – Wadi el-Natrun – sites including Deir el-Surian (Deir el-Syriani), the monastery of Maria Deipara, Kellia, the monastery Deir Abu Maqar, Qaret el-Dahr, Quçur el-Rubaiyat according to the on-line dictionary "Trismegistos" <http://www.trismegistos.org/geo/detail.php?tm=3375 Archived 26 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine>
- "Prince visits 'monastic republic'". BBC. 12 May 2004.
-  Archived 23 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine The Friends of Mount Athos, announcement of the Pilgrim Map, with link to the cartographer's website, <http://www.filathonites.org Archived 28 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine>.
-  Archived 28 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine The Friends of Mount Athos, A Pilgrim's Guide to Mount Athos, online version.