Finnish Lutherans Elect New Bishop

ELMDF Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola.

FINLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen lähetyshiippakunta -ELMDF) has elected Diocesan Dean Juhana Pohjola to serve as its new bishop.  The election was announced during the ELMDF’s Diocesan Assembly on January 23, 2021.

“I wish to express my gratitude for the great confidence you have shown in me by giving me such strong support and by electing me for this important and demanding task,” said Rev. Dr. Pohjola in a speech after the election. “I feel great weakness faced with such a great task and calling but I know that the matter has been discussed in the congregations, and that many prayers and intercessions have been said for the matter, which encourages me to look forward to this.”

In total, Dr. Pohjola received 111 votes (90.2 percent) through advance voting, while candidate Rev. Esko Murto received 12 votes. A total of 95 percent of potential delegates voted in the election.

Dr. Pohjola’s consecration as bishop is planned for August 1, 2021 at the ELMDF’s Mission Diocese Summer Festival in Loimaa, Finland. He will be the third bishop in the history of Finland’s Luther Foundation, and the second for the ELMDF itself. Dr. Pohjola will succeed Bishop Risto Soramies, who has served as Bishop from 2013-2021. Matti Väisänen served as the first Finnish Bishop of the Mission Province of Sweden and Finland from 2010 until the emergence of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland in 2013.

Dr. Pohjola has served as Diocesan Dean of the ELMDF from 2013 until the present, and as dean of its supporting trust, Luther Foundation Finland (LFF), from 2000-2001 and 2012 to the present. He previously served as head pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Helsinki from 2000-2010, and as a visiting scholar at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada) from 2011-2012. He holds a Master of Theology degree from the University of Helsinki (1997), a Master of Sacred Theology degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (1998), and a Doctorate of Theology from the University of Helsinki (2014).

Dean Pohjola was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland’s (ELCF) Diocese of Oulu in 1999 in order to serve the then newly founded Luther Foundation Finland. In 2004, the LFF broke fellowship with the ELCF over doctrinal differences. The LFF found itself shunned by the ELCF but the unexpected publicity led to rapid growth in the LFF. Dean Pohjola was eventually defrocked by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in 2014 after the founding of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland.

The ELMDF and Dean Juhana Pohjola drew international attention in 2020 when Finnish police began investigating them for the 2004 publication of a booklet which defended historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. The booklet, which was written by a Finnish Member of Parliament, was published well before the 2017 legalization of same-sex marriage in Finland. Dean Pohjola was interrogated for five hours as part of an ongoing investigation which has sparked international concern over the state of religious freedom in Finland.

The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide.

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Adapted from an ELMDF news release. For more information, see the ELMDF’s report here.

Finnish Lutherans to elect a new bishop in 2021

FINLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) will hold an election for bishop in January 2021, following Bishop Risto Soramies’ request to be released from the duties of bishop.

“I turn 75 next year,” Bishop Soramies notes in an announcement to the church. “I have had the joy and privilege of serving Lutheran congregations as the bishop of our church. As a young man, I missed the chance to serve in congregations where priests know their flocks and flocks know their priests. I couldn’t even imagine being allowed to serve such congregations and pastors in my old age.”

Bishop Risto Soramies speaks at the ELMDF’s 2020 Diocesan Assembly.

“In my opinion, now is the right time for a generational change,” he said, citing Ecclesiastes 3:1—“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” He further expressed his thanks to the pastors and congregations of the ELMDF for the opportunity to serve with them.

Bishop Risto Soramies was ordained bishop of the ELMDF on May 4, 2013, shortly after the official founding of the ELMDF as an autonomous church body. Prior to his elevation to the episcopacy, Bishop Soramies served as a missionary for more than 40 years to Turkish immigrants in Germany as well as in Turkey itself. He was the founding pastor of the Istanbul Lutheran Church in Turkey.

During Bishop Soramies’ tenure, the ELMDF formed the Communion of Nordic Dioceses in 2015 along with the Mission Province in Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese in Norway. He led the ELMDF into membership in the International Lutheran Council in 2018, and also oversaw successful fellowship talks with Lutheran Church–Canada, Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, and most recently The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Candidates for Bishop

 

ELMDF candidates for bishop: Rev. Esko Murto and Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola.

At a November meeting of the College of the Priests, the ELMDF’s clergy put forward two candidates for bishop: Rev. Esko Murto and Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola. The ELMDF’s Consistory has since examined both candidates and declared them eligible for election as bishop.

Rev. Murto was ordained in 2007, and currently serves as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Tampere. He previously served as Dean of the Luther Foundation Finland, and has served as assistant professor at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario). Rev. Murto holds a Master of Theology from the University of Helsinki and a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana).

Dr. Pohjola was ordained in 1999, and currently serves as Dean of the ELMDF. He previously served as Dean of the Lutheran Foundation Finland, and as a visiting researcher at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario). Dr. Pohjola holds a Master of Theology from the University of Helsinki, a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), and a Doctor of Theology from the University of Helsinki.

The election of the bishop will take place January 16-18, 2021, in advance of an extraordinary diocesan meeting to be held remotely on January 23. The assembly must then confirm the results of the election. All clergy and representatives of each congregation are eligible to vote for the ELMDF’s new bishop.

The installation of the new bishop is planned for August 1, 2021.

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Finnish Lutherans enter into fellowship with the LCMS

ELMDF Bishop Risto Soramies speaks on fellowship discussions with The LCMS during the Finnish church’s Diocesan Assembly.

FINLAND – On November 14, 2020, the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) unanimously declared altar and pulpit fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The decision came during the ELMDF’s annual Diocesan Assembly, held this year online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The LCMS for its part also expressed recognition of fellowship in a letter of greeting presented to the ELMDF gathering.

Bishop Risto Soramies of the ELMDF, who led the church’s dialogue with the LCMS, hailed the decision as a way of deepening connections between the two churches based on a common faith. “Now our parishioners can commune with each other, and our pastors can preach at each other’s services,” he noted. He also looked forward to closer cooperation on theological education and in the fields of mission. “It is encouraging for us to see how the Mission Diocese is recognized as a church and our work is valued,” he continued.

In a letter to the Diocesan Assembly, President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod expressed joy at the prospect of an official declaration of fellowship. “Your hospitality, service to Christ, and commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions in the face of opposition remain an example and encouragement to me and to our entire church,” President Harrison said. “It is with special joy and thanksgiving that I write on behalf of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod humbly to extend our hand of fellowship to the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland.”

Fellowship discussions between the LCMS and the ELMDF first began in 2017. “Since that time, we have conducted substantial conversations about a variety of matters before coming to agreement that we believe, teach, and confess the same doctrine, as it is revealed by the Word of God and contained in the Lutheran Confessions,” President Harrison noted. As a result of those discussions, the LCMS’ Commission on Theology and Church Relations voted unanimously to recognize fellowship with the ELMDF, leading President Harrison to declare fellowship on behalf of the LCMS in his letter. In the LCMS, the president of synod is able to recognize fellowship immediately in situations like these, with a vote to endorse the decision to follow at the next synodical convention—in this case, in July 2021.

In a letter to President Harrison following the vote, Bishop Soramies expressed joy over the declaration of fellowship between the two churches. “The Missouri Synod has been a strong partner for many other confessional churches around the world,” he noted. “We are deeply thankful for this fellowship which is, and will certainly continue to be, a blessing for God’s people.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are both member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Finnish theologian and missionary enters into glory

Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki

FINLAND – Rev. Dr. Anssi Simojoki, a major figure in Finnish Lutheranism and African missions, passed away on July 6, 2020 at his home in Uusikaupunki. He was 75 years old.

Dr. Simojoki left a deep spiritual impact on Finland and more broadly on missions. He was known as a powerful preacher of the Gospel, a versatile theologian, a courageous ecclesiastical debater, and a prolific writer and wordsmith.

Dr. Simojoki was ordained by Archbishop Martti Simojoki at Turku Cathedral in 1972. He served the parishes of Kodisjoki and Pori before being elected pastor of Lappi in southwest Finland. During this time, he became acquainted with the spiritual heritage of the so-called Prayer Revival of Western Finland. He served as the longtime editor of the movement’s magazine Länsi-Suomen Herännäislehti.

Dr. Simojoki was a founding member and longtime General Secretary of the St. Paul’s Synod in 1975, a forum and think tank for the confessional Lutheran defence of the office of the ministry in public discussions—including in the theological debate on woman’s priesthood, a debate which led to deep divisions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.

In 1989, Dr. Simojoki was invited to serve as a missionary of the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland to Kenya, where he served as a teacher at the Matongo Lutheran Theological Seminary and as pastor to a congregation in Nairobi. While serving in the field, he completed his doctoral thesis on the reception of the Book of Revelation in Finnish theology, which he defended at Åbo Akademi University in 1997.

In 1996, with the support of the Association of the Western Finland Prayer Movement, he joined the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, pioneering their work in Africa. In that role, he led numerous translation projects of Lutheran literature into dozens of African languages. He taught in many countries across the continent, including in Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Together with Rev. Dr. Robert Rahn and Rev. Andrew Mbugo, he helped found the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Sudan and Sudan. He also helped lead Gospel ministry efforts in hostile places like Somalia, Afghanistan, and Turkey. Before retiring in 2010, Dr. Simojoki completed a translation of the Lutheran Confessions into Swahili.

Dr. Simojoki helped to establish the Finnish Luther Foundation in 1999, and was subsequently also involved in the founding of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF). He served as chairman of the church’s Lutheran Hymns committee, producing a number of new hymns through original writing and translation.

His membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese led the Turku Archdiocese to defrock him from ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland in 2014. He spent his remaining years helping to build the Mission Diocese. In 2014, the Mission Diocese published a Festschrift in honour of his 70th birthday, the title of which summed up Simojoki’s spiritual heritage: It is True as it is Written.

In retirement, Dr. Simojoki continued to serve as pastor to the Laitila congregation of the Mission Diocese. His ministry there bore witness to the focal point of his teaching and ministry: that God works through His Holy Word. From week to week, he focused on teaching and preaching. The gifts of Christ were to be distributed as they were instituted, so that even the weakest may possess the grace of Christ. The day before his death, he preached his final sermon at the congregation’s summer festival in Pyhäranta.

Dr. Simojoki is survived by his wife Marja, their six children, and twenty-four grandchildren.

Rev. Dr. Simojoki’s motto was Ps. 118:17, a fitting memorial to the faith of the great theologian and churchman: “Non moriar sed vivam, et narrabo opera Domini – I shall not die but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

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From a report by the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, with information also from a report by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.

The ELMDF is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

ILC concerned over investigation of Finnish Lutherans, urges prayer

FINLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) has announced that their Dean, Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, was summoned for questioning at the Helsinki Police Department on February 11, 2020.

The interrogation lasted five hours. He has been declared suspected of “ethnic agitation.”

The ELMDF is under investigation by Finland’s Prosecutor General for the publication of a booklet upholding historic Christian teachings on human sexuality. That booklet is “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” written by Dr. Päivi Räsänen, a Member of Parliament in Finland and former Minister of the Interior. Dr. Räsänen is also under investigation by the Prosecutor General.

The ELMDF’s booklet was published in 2004, well before the 2017 legalization of same-sex marriage in Finland. In the work, Dr. Räsänen argues that homosexual activity must be identified as sin by the Church on the basis of the teachings of Scripture.

Dean Pohjola acknowledged that, as editor-in-chief of Luther Foundation Finland, he is responsible for the publication and distribution of the work. “I denied, however, being guilty of the crime of ethnic agitation,” he said. “In my view, Mrs. Räsänen’s text is not defamatory or insulting to homosexuals. In my answers, I showed that the booklet teaches in line with Christian anthropology that every person is precious as [being created in] the image of God, regardless of sexual orientation.”

“This does not mean, however, that people are not responsible before God for their way of life or moral choices,” he continued. “The homosexual lifestyle is contrary to God’s order of creation and a transgression against His will. If one is not allowed to teach this publicly, the message of sin and grace will be left without a foundation, and freedom of religion will decline.”

The investigation of the ELMDF is worrisome, according to Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “We are extremely concerned over recent actions by the Finnish authorities in targeting faithful Lutherans,” Dr. Quill said. “We understand that the ELMDF and its Dean are under suspicion of a hate crime simply for upholding biblical Christian teachings on sexuality. We urge Finnish authorities to conclude their investigation and reaffirm the rights of Christians to believe and teach in accord with the Word of God.”

“We encourage Christians throughout the world to remember the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland in prayer,” continued Dr. Quill. “Pray that Finnish authorities will uphold the rights of Christians to confess the faith of Scripture clearly and without fear. May God give comfort and strength to His faithful people in Finland.”

The ELDMF is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies representing millions of Lutherans around the world.

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Finnish Lutherans under investigation for upholding biblical teachings on sexuality

FINLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) is under investigation by Finland’s Prosecutor General for the publication of a booklet upholding historic Christian teachings on human sexuality.

The Luther Foundation Finland (Suomen Luther-säätiö)—the legal entity behind the ELMDF—is being investigated for its 2004 booklet “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity.” The Prosecutor General alleges that the booklet incites hatred against homosexual people, despite an earlier decision by Helsinki Police which concluded no crimes had been committed. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Finland since 2017.

“The decision of the Prosecutor General to conduct a preliminary investigation of our publication is surprising, as I believe the police have already thoroughly investigated and concluded that this is not a criminal offense,” said Rev. Juhana Pohjola, the Dean of the ELMDF. “It is our job to teach the entire Word of the Bible in peace, including on marriage as created by God.”

Dr. Päivi Räsänen

The booklet’s author, Dr. Päivi Räsänen is also under investigation by the Prosecutor General. Dr. Räsänen is a Member of Parliament in Finland and former Minister of the Interior.

The booklet, which has recently been made available in English translation online, argues that homosexual activity must be identified as sin by the Church on the basis of the teachings of Scripture. A failure to recognize sin as sin undermines the very need for a Saviour, Dr. Räsänen writes. “If God is not the Holy God who condemns sin as described in the Bible—including homosexual behaviour—why did the Son of God have to die?” Dr.  Räsänen asks. “If we deny people the right to feel guilt for their sin, we also deprive them of the joy and assurance of the Gospel. The certainty of heaven rests on Christ’s assured atonement for our very real sins and on His resurrection from the dead.”

Additional information on the case, including links to English reporting on the situation, are available from the website of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. A pdf of the booklet in English translation can be read online here.

The ELMDF is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which uphold the authority of Scripture in all aspects of faith and life.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church of England declares fellowship with Finnish and Norwegian churches

ELMDF Bishop Risto Soramies and ELCE Chairman Jon Ehlers sign documents recognizing fellowship between their two churches.

United Kingdom – The 65th Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) was held September 27-28 at Christ Church (Petts Wood), during which time the ELCE recognised church fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and the Evangelical Lutheran-Diocese in Norway (DELSiN). These church fellowship recognitions are the culmination of five years of discussion, together with the Mission Province of Sweden and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.

Attending the ELCE Synod was Bishop Risto Soramies of the ELMDF and together with ELCE Chairman, Rev. Jon Ehlers, they signed documents and extended the right hand of fellowship. Bishop Soramies spoke about the situation in Finland, the history of his church, and their priorities in establishing worship places so that folk only have to travel up to one hour to attend worship. He also mentioned that the ELMDF was prioritising investing in personnel rather than buildings.

Bishop Thor Henrik With of the DELSiN at the last minute was unable to attend the Synod. Nevertheless the ELCE delegates also resolved recognition of church fellowship with the DELSiN.

The ELCE, ELMDF, DELSiN are all members of the International Lutheran Council.

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German Lutherans declare fellowship with six new church bodies

SELK Bishop Voigt (far right) greets (front l-r) DELSin Bishop With, ELMDF Bishop Soramies, and AALC Presiding Pastor Leins following the vote to recognize fellowship. (Photo: Dörte Pape via DELSiN.)

GERMANY – The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche) held its 14th National Church Synod from May 21-26, 2019 in Balhorn, Germany, during which time the church declared fellowship with six church bodies from Europe, North America, and South America.

The SELK’s new fellowship partners include the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN), the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway (DELSiN), and the Mission Province in Sweden. (The Mission Province still needs to ratify the agreement with SELK before fellowship between the two churches will take effect.)

SELK also declared fellowship with Concordia Fellowship, an Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Celle, Germany.

“It’s a joy to recognize fellowship with our brothers and sisters around the world,” noted SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt. “We look forward to nurturing the growing relationships between our various church bodies, and looking for new opportunities for cooperation and partnership in our proclamation of the Gospel.”

The resolution to declare fellowship was followed by a standing ovation and a hymn of thanksgiving. The heads of three of the new partner church bodies—Bishop Thor Henrik With (DELSiN), Bishop Risto Soramies (ELMDF), and Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (AALC)—were all on hand for the event.

SELK’s 2019 Synod met under the theme: “Good News in a Fake News World. Speakers for the event were Professor Dr. Christian Neddens (Oberursel, Germany) and Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb (St. Louis, Missouri). Among other business, the church accepted a new document from SELK’s Theological Commission on “The Lutheran Church and Judaism,” discussed the role of women in the church, and conducted elections for various boards and commissions.

SELK, the AALC, IELA, ELMDF, ILSN, DELSiN, and the Mission Province are all members of the International Lutheran Council, a growing association of confessional Lutheran churches around the world.

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Swedish Lutherans consecrate new bishop

Bishop Bengt Ådahl (centre right holding a crosier) of the Mission Province of Sweden, along with church leaders who participated in his consecration.
Bishop Bengt Ådahl.

SWEDEN – On April 27, 2019 Rev. Bengt Ådahl was consecrated as bishop of the Mission Province in Sweden at a festive service in Gothenburg.

Bishop Ådahl was installed by Bishop Roland Gustafsson, who has retired after nine years of service leading the Mission Province. Assisting Bishop Gustafsson were Bishops Göran Beijer and Lars Artman, as well as the Mission Province’s first Bishop Arne Olsson.

Also participating in the service were Bishop Thor Henrik With of the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway, Bishop Risto Soramies of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Bishop Hans Jönsson bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.

Bishop Ådahl introduced his personal episcopal mission with the encouragement to “Look to Jesus,” drawing on Hebrews 12:2. “In all true Christianity, Jesus Christ is at the centre,” he explained. For this reason, Jesus must remain the centre of all Christian faith and practice. He must remain central in our individual lives. He must remain central in our understanding of Scripture. And He must remain central in the life of the Church.

“It is tempting,” he acknowledged, to follow “what is politically correct, what is liked in media coverage, to feel out which way the wind is blowing right now.”

Bishop Ådahl is consecrated.

“But it is fatal,” he warned. Instead, he said, “we must look to Jesus, search into His Word. We shall be faithful to and adhere to everything that He has shown and made clear to us in His Word. This is precisely what the Lord expects of us: to remain faithful to Himself, to His Word, faithful to the doctrines and confessions of the Church.”

This challenging call to stand firm on Christ and His Word is one the Mission Province in Sweden knows only too well. The Mission was founded first as a reform group within the Church of Sweden in 2003 by those attempting to remain faithful to the Scriptures while the state church increasingly secularized. Their first bishop, Arne Olsson, was installed in 2005. The Church of Sweden responded by defrocking Bishop Olsson.

The state church has continued to punish those holding confessional views, barring confessional candidates from ordination. One of those barred from ordination by the state Church of Sweden was in attendance at the consecration of Bishop Ådahl—Bishop Hans Jönsson, who was subsequently welcomed into the Latvian church and made a bishop there in 2016.

The Mission Province in Sweden is a member of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses, together with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. In 2018, the Mission Province and the other members of the Communion of Nordic Dioceses became members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. During that time, Bishop Emeritus Roland Gustafsson announced his intention to retire as head of Mission Province, having successfully brought the church into membership with the ILC.

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