The Holy Land has, shall we say, an expanded calendar when it comes to holiday celebrations. Today is Armenian Christmas – the last in the three Christmas celebrations, and yesterday was The Feast of the Epiphany.
Epiphany, or Theophany, means “Manifestation of God,” and it celebrates Christ's baptism in the River Jordan by John the Baptist (Matthew 3: 13-17).
Thousands of faithful, mainly from the Greek and Russian Orthodox Church, made the pilgrimage to the holy site of Qasr el Yahud on the Jordan river to celebrate.
But do you realize that this holiday not only focuses on John's baptism of Jesus, but also, according to our Christian belief, marked the beginning of Christ's ministry and also revealed Jesus as God in the form of the Holy Trinity to the world! And this all happened on the banks of the slow turning Jordan river.
In our day, every year, thousands of faithful – mainly tourists but with a few local pilgrims – visit both sides of the river, with there being a parallel site in the Kingdom of Jordan. It is a colorful and festive celebration – but also reflects some of the challenges faced by the church today divided by about 15 feet of running water.
Having said that – you may be surprised to learn that Qasr el Yahud is the third most important site for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land (after the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity). One can visit it daily if you are on the Jordanian side, and generally it can be accessed three times a year on the Israeli side – when the Latin (Catholic), Greek, or Armenian Churches hold their celebrations. Through coordination with the army, there are thousands of foreign pilgrims who, through their organized groups, who visit this special place. Later this year I am told, there will be a general opening to the site for all to enjoy!
But the last surprise I have to share with you is the little nugget that, according to tradition, this is the place where the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan when they entered Canaan – or the Promised Land.
To me that's thrilling – because the symbolism shows that when we commit ourselves to God through the act of public baptism, we enter in to the promise God has made to us – to bring us to His inheritance that he has prepared for us. It is his promise!
Thanks for checking in – see you Thursday!
Middle East Correspondent