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January 24, 2010January 24, 2010  0 comments  Events

There is a chill in the air as a winter rain sets in over the Jordan Valley. However, for Suheila, a 40 year old Christian from Tel Aviv/Jaffa and her four year old daughter Naala, it's well worth it for a chance at attending a joyous and spiritually uplifting ceremony. Suheila and Naala were two of the estimated 10,000 faithful who turned out for the Feast of Epiphany celebrations on January 18 this year along the banks of the River Jordan.

 

"It makes us feel holier and closer to Jesus," Suheila explains as Naala shyly turns away, wondering what all the fuss is about. "We used to go into the water to be baptized," she told Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land.. However, given the crowds that came for the festival, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, citing safety concerns had instead set up vats of water from the river where people could bathe themselves or simply wash their hands and feet.

 

"Pilgrims visiting on other days are allowed into the water," Lydia Weitzman, the Foreign Press Adviser for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism assured us. "The Ministry has invested millions of shekels to build a deck and to make the water safe for baptism," she continued.

 

On the Jordanian side of the river, a smaller area has been erected and some of the faithful there, dressed in white did brave the frigid waters for a chance to be baptized in the same river where Jesus was baptized 2,000 years ago. For the believer and Christian pilgrim to the Holy Land, there is no place which has more spiritual resonance for a baptism.

 

The site is known in Arabic as Qasr El Yahud. Recognized as a holy place since the fourth century A.D, this is the site, according The New Testament where Jesus was baptized for the first time by John the Baptist, thereby allowing him to have Revelation. It is considered to be the third holiest site in Israel for Christians and is rapidly becoming a regular stop for Christian pilgrims all year round.

 

Most Christian pilgrims have never heard of Qasr El Yahud. Rather, they tend to visit the more famous Yardenit, the more commonly used location for baptism in the Holy Land, south of Tiberias. However, most biblical scholars believe that Qasr El Yahud is the true baptismal site and the place where it is most holy to receive a baptism. The fact that it is so much closer to Jerusalem (around a forty minute ride) and the holy sites there only makes it all the more tempting for pilgrims to visit.

 

The area had lain in ruins for years, being visited by only a handful of pilgrims who knew of its significance, before the Israeli Ministry of Tourism decided to make a capital investment, pouring some eight million shekels (about $2.15 million) into the site with an additional two million shekels allocated for adding the finishing touches to area.

 

Qasr El Yahud

The site is expected to open with regular visiting hours once renovations are complete, perhaps as early as April, 2010 according to Yael Zilberstein, a representative of the Israel Defense Forces' Civil Administration. In the interim, tour groups can arrange for visits by calling the Israel Nature and Parks Authority at 02-654-1255. Once it is open regularly of course, the site is expected to be visited by significantly more pilgrims as opposed to only special occasions, such as the Feast of Epiphany celebrations.

 

On the day of the Feast of the Epiphany, three groups of churches, the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox and Ethiopian churches each gathered in their respective chapels to celebrate the event. The largest and most recognized event is that of the Greek Orthodox Church. The day began inside the chapel, where the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III offered his blessings to each of the priests in his order who sang prayers in Latin. The final benediction was offered by the Patriarch himself and after that, the faithful gathered in a long procession down a windy road heading toward the ultimate destination, the River Jordan.

Saadidan, a lay leader of the local Orthodox Church in Jericho led the joyous parade, twirling his baton with a group of drummers and singers behind him. Asked about his feelings on the occasion, he was out of breath and smiled, saying only that he was "very happy" to be there.

 

Saaladan, lay leader from Jericho

Adrian, a Romanian priest who had come from Bucharest for the celebrations had a similar reaction, simply smiling and pointing to the sky, as if to say, "this is the place where God came to earth." He explained that he'd come every year for the event and that being here, at the edge of the Jordan River reminded him of what it means to be a Christian.

Of course, the festivities are not without some controversy. The area of Qasr El Yahud is situated within the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, just a few kilometers away from Jericho. When asked about coordination with the Palestinian Authority, Ms. Weitzman expressed her hope that the newly renovated site would offer a "bridge for peace," allowing people of "all faiths to come together."

 

Doves being released by Greek Patriarch

Watching the doves of peace released by Theophilos III at the conclusion of the ceremony and seeing the smile on young Naala's face as they flutter in the breeze, we can only pray that Ms. Weitzman's words will indeed prove prophetic.

 

 

 


January 23, 2011January 23, 2011  0 comments  Events

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and [John the Baptist] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on [Jesus]. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:16-17)

 

The Feast of the Epiphany (January 6 on the Julian calendar) is the third most important day on the calendar behind Passover and Pentecost for the Eastern Orthodox churches, and it is little wonder why.

 

Also known as the Theophany - manifestation of the divine - the Feast of the Epiphany marks that moment in scripture that birthed Christian faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the promised Messiah. It is also the foundation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

 

Just as Christian pilgrims have been doing for nearly two thousand years, the Feast of the Epiphany begins with a short journey from Jerusalem to the Jordan River. Even the route is identical, following the same natural pathway down through the mountains of Judah into the Judean wilderness and up to the banks of that sacred stream.

 

pilgrims at the Epiphany ceremony at Qasr El Yahud

PIlgrims at the Epiphany ceremony at Qasr El Yahud, on the Jordan River

Today, we are able to make the journey in about half-an-hour aboard comfortable passenger buses to Qasr El Yahud, the site many believe to be the authentic site where John baptised Jesus. But for much of Christian history, the trip took a bit longer, and often required an overnight stop along the way, and so it would be negligent to fail to mention that most famous of way stations, the Inn of the Good Samaritan. Situated just off the road from Jerusalem to the Jordan, the Inn of the Good Samaritan served Christian pilgrims journeying to the place of Jesus' baptism for centuries.

 

The inn has today been transformed into a fascinating museum featuring mosaic floors found among the ruins of ancient synagogues and churches from across Judea and Samaria, the areas most commonly known as the West Bank. In its current capacity, the Inn of the Good Samaritan is a powerful reminder of the religious history permeating the entire area.

 

Mosaic at the Museum of the Good Samaritan

Mosaic on display at the Museum of the Good Samaritan

 

And the Inn of the Good Samaritan is not the only such reminder. Israel Parks Authority guide,Yoav Hermoni, explained that the Judean wilderness is a localized desert, meaning it is very small and far more abundant in natural resources than larger, more desolate deserts. What that means is that the Judean wilderness is the perfect location for monasteries - both in a natural and religious sense - and there are indeed many of them dotting the landscape.

 

Upon arriving at Jordan, pilgrims must wait upon the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to start the event, but there is no lack of activity in the interim. The atmosphere is festive, to say the least, but also very solemn.

 

"I am very happy to be here," said Masha, a pious young pilgrim from Moscow who was clearly overwhelmed by the gravity of the event. Stylianos from Thessalonika, Greece didn't speak much English, but expressed a similar gratitude at being able to participate in ceremony.

 

Qasr al-Yahud, the Arabic name for the location, was identified nearly 1,700 years ago by Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, as the place not only where Jesus was baptized, but also where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Hence the Arabic name, which means "the Jews' cutting [of the river]."

 

Both the eastern and western sides of the river have seen development by Jordan and Israel, respectively, and today boast ample facilities for visiting pilgrims.

Following a lengthy, but much anticipated procession from the nearby Monastery of John the Baptist, the Greek patriarch pronounces a series of blessings at a small chapel near the river and then proceeds to the water line.

 

Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Theopolous

At the river, the patriarch conducted a short ritual that centered around the releasing of three doves signifying the revelation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

Release of the doves during Epiphany

While the Jordan is very cold this time of year, that didn't stop many pilgrims and priests from washing their feet, hands and heads in its holy waters following the ceremony.

 

Ultimately, the Feast of the Epiphany is a brief event, but also a very important one. Significant enough for 20,000 Christian pilgrims to make their way to the Jordan River, most of them arriving from abroad.

 

Lydia Weitzman, Foreign Press Adviser for Israel's Ministry of Tourism, said there has been a strong effort to return the focus on Israel and the surrounding areas to that of the Holy Land. She said that while Israel has the same great weather and beaches as Cyprus and other eastern Mediterranean destinations, it offers so much more.

 

That strategy appears to be paying off. This past year saw a significant rise in tourism to Israel, and 69 percent of all visitors were Christians, most of whom consider themselves pilgrims. Of all tourists, Catholics come in the most significant numbers, totaling 39% of all tourists to Israel. And visiting Qasr al-Yahud and the Inn of the Good Samaritan demonstrates that there is a real commitment to adequately accommodate those Christian pilgrims and ensure that their journey is a meaningful and spiritual one.

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Ryan Jones writes for www.travelujah.com, the leading Christian social network focused on Holy land tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


October 25, 2011October 25, 2011  0 comments  Events

The Friars of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land will embark on their annual pilgrimage to the baptism site of Qasr El Yahud, located on the Jordan River on October 27, 2011. Parish priests, community members and other friars accompanied by hundreds of pilgrims and local Christians will travel to Qasr El Yahud, considered by many to be the actual site where John the Baptist baptised Jesus prior to beginning his more public ministry.

 

After the 8:45 am procession and the subsequent mass, the Friars will continue their pilgrimage by visiting Mount Qarantal and  the Greek Orthodox Monastery situated there.

 

Mt. Temptation

Qarantal Monastary on the Mt. of Temptation  Photo courtesy: Travelujah

 

Qasr El Yahud is located in Area B, which is in the Palestinian Territories but under Israeli control. Both Israelis and Palestinians are free to travel to the area.

 

Since the Six Day War in 1967, the site had been a closed military zone, open to visitors only twice a year or by appointment. However, in the last few years the site has been opened for limited visitation, and under pre-arrangement with local authorities. After a significant redevelopment that was completed last summer, the Israel Ministry of Tourism officially changed the operating hours and Qasr El Yahud is now open to the public seven days a week.

 

Qasr El Yahud baptismal site

Qasr El Yahud on the Jordan River

 

Known in Arabic as Qasr al Yahud (castle of the Jews), the site is situated in the Jordan Valley, just outside of Jericho, approximately 40 minutes drive time from Jerusalem drive from Jerusalem.  Since the 4th century A.D. the site has been considered a holy site as attested to by archaeological findings of numerous byzantine churches, including mosaics, marble steps and a unique pool used for baptism.

 

All four gospels recall the story of Jesus coming to the Jordan to be baptized by John.

 

"These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing" (John 1:28). Jesus also stayed in the same "Bethany beyond the Jordan" a baptsimal on the Jordanian side of the river (not to be confused with Bethany on the Mount of Olives), when he later fled persecution in Jerusalem (John 10:40).

 

The site is also interesting in that it is indirectly related to several other bible stories.  Qasr El Yahud is proximate to Jericho - notable for being the city to which the Israelites arrived after crossing from Jordan to Canaan. In fact, in order to safely do so, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. Further, the site is also mentioned in the story of the prophet Elijah, who needed to cross the Jordan on dry ground with Elisha before he was taken up to heaven on a chariot of fire.

 

The site is quite significant in that by  beginning his new ministry with his symbolic baptism at Qasr El Yahud, very close to the site where the Jewish people were first led into the promised land -  Jesus can be seen as a  "new Joshua".  In fact, the two names Yeshua and Yehoshua, are in hebrew  quite similar. For many Christians seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, visiting Qasr El Yahud and being baptised at this site are considered a profoundly unique spiritual experience.

 

SideBar - visiting Qasr El Yahud

 

Although there are no regularly scheduled day tours to Qasr El Yahud,  tourists seeking to visit the site can travel thereeither independently with a rental carinsured for travel into the Palestinian Territories. Alternatively, tourists can arrange for a private day tour or private driver/taxi that will include the site.

 

As of July 12, 2011 Qasr El Yahud is  open daily to all visitors. For information (from Israel) dial 02 650-4844 fax: 02-650-4843 or email ssark@npa.org.il

 

For additional information on visiting Qasr El Yahud or other sites and tours in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, please email info@travelujah.com

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January 8, 2012January 8, 2012  0 comments  Events

 

The Roman Catholic church, the Anglican Communion, and some other Western denominations, Jesus's baptism is known as the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This year that Feast is held on January 8, 2012.

 

Jesus Christ's public ministry began with his initial baptism, believed by many to have occurred at Qasr El Yahud and considered to be one of the five major milestones in the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus.


John the Baptist preached a 'baptism with water', believed by many to have occurred at the site known today as Qasr al-Yahud. The event is marked by a dove-like descent of the Holy Spirit, which is why a dove is released during the annual Epiphany ceremony.

In Eastern Christianity, Jesus' baptism is commemorated on 6 January, the feast of Epiphany.


The Custody of the Holy land has an annual pilgrimage organized to Qasr El Yahud, the Mt. of Temptations and the Qarantal Monastery. A mass is celebrated at Qasr El Yahud at 10 am.

 

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January 10, 2013January 10, 2013  0 comments  Historical Sites

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.” (Matt.3:3)

The Jordan River flows through the Jordan Rift Valley into the Sea of the Galilee and then continues down into the Dead Sea with no outlet. It is a place of many important biblical events. However, for most of Christians the first association with the river would be the scene of Jesus Christ being baptized by John the Baptist.

According to the Christian faith, the Jordan River is considered the third most holy site in the Holy Land, just after Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem and Golgotha in Jerusalem, because it is the site of the most important event of Jesus’ life - His baptism and beginning of his ministry.

Jordan River Baptism Travelujah

John the Baptist

It was John the Baptist who decided to baptize people in the Jordan River. Many scholars think that he might have been influenced by the Essens, who like John, were leading an ascetic life in the wilderness of Qumran or Ein Gedi. One of their principal religious rituals was a daily immersion tvilah in water mikvah to regain purity. Jordan river represented a perfect mikvah of continuously running water.

John is also commonly referred to be a precursor of Jesus, and the Gospel of Matthew describes him as the person mentioned by Isaiah in his prophecy: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3) John also announced that Christ - the Messiah is coming, with the words: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt. 3:11)

Jordan River Baptism Travelujah

Jesus’ Baptism and Its Meaning

Christ was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17) This event marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

Baptism with water, practiced since the beginning of the Church, represents admission into the Christian community and is essential for salvation. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." (John 3:5) In Christianity, baptism is a sign of “repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4) and the beginning of the life in Christ within the Church. We are baptized in the name God: “Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19) As well, through baptism Christians associate with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus: “And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you […] by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)

Different Christian denominations have various baptismal practices. Orthodox and Catholic Christians are receiving the sacrament when still infants. The Catholic baptism is done by effusion, meaning pouring water over someone’s head. However, according to the rituals of the Orthodox and some other Eastern Churches, a baby would be completely submersed in water. Within the Anabaptist (baptised again) and Baptist practices, a person would receive baptism as an adult in order to understand the significance and be aware of accepting Christ as a Saviour.

Site of Jesus’ Baptism - Qasr el Yahud

Qasr el Yahud, one of the most important sites for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, is identified as the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism. The place is located in the wilderness of the Jordan River Valley, north of the Dead Sea and east of Jericho. Remains of a Byzantine church from the 4-5th century, still visible on the site, point to the ancient tradition associate with this site.

Jordan River Baptism Travelujah

To be baptized in the same place where Jesus was baptized, is a uniquely spiritual moment for the Christian believer. Qasr el Yahud is furnished with facilities required to assist visiting pilgrims and enhance their experience. There are on site showers, facilities for prayer, wheelchair access and improved car parking. Baptismal robes are available for purchase for $10 (35 IL).

Baptism of the Lord Celebration

The Baptism of the Lord Celebration is a feast commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by the John the Baptist. In the Holy Land, this event takes place at Qasr el Yahud.

According to the Catholic Church’s tradition, the holiday is celebrated always on the first Sunday after the feast of Epiphany. This year 2013, Catholics will make a pilgrimage to the site on the 13th of January and hold a mass in a chapel on the riverbank.

The 18th and 19th of January 2013 will mark the Feast of Theophany, which for the Eastern Churches denotes Christ’s baptism and first revelation as the Son of God and the revelation of the Holy Trinity.  On the morning of the 18th of January a procession of Eastern Orthodox clergy and pilgrims would follow down to the river bank, where the celebration will be held. The Patriarch, by submerging the cross in the river will purify and consecrate its water, which then shall be sprinkled on the crowds of faithful. In the afternoon the Ethiopian Orthodox Church will celebrate the Baptism at the site. On the morning of the 19th of January, the baptismal celebrations will be held by the Coptic Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox Churches.

Jordan River Baptism Travelujah

Other Biblical Events Connected to Qasr el Yahud

There are other biblical events also associated with Qasr el Yahud. Joshua, leading the Israelites crossed there the Jordan River, and entered the Land of Canaan (Joshua 3). In additiona, Elijah the Propet ascended to heaven on a fiery chariot (2 Kings 11) at the site of Qasr el Yahud.

How to get there: Qasr el Yahud is just north of the Dead Sea. If driving from Jerusalem, take the highway #1 towards Jericho’s bypass road, then turn north on the highway #90, drive approximately 2.5 km (1.5 miles) until you reach a grove, and then turn east in the direction of a sign saying Qasr al-Yahud. Currently, there is no public transportation which goes exactly to the site. Hiring a taxi driver or a private tour could be an option.

Opening hours: Qasr el Yahud is open daily from 8 am till 5 pm in the summer and till 4 pm during the winter, except on Fridays from 8 am till 3 pm (summer) or till 2 pm (winter). There is no entry fee. Pilgrims are advised to call before visiting on (02) 650-4844.

Yardenit

Many pilgrims come to the Holy Land especially to be baptised in the Jordan River, thus the site of Yardenit was established in 1981 as a result of the closing of Qasr el Yahud which occurred at the time due to the unstable political situation in the region. This picturesque baptismal site, located south of the Jordan River's outlet from the Sea of Galilee, welcomes everyone who would like to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and follow Jesus’s life by  experiencing the baptismal waters.

Jordan River Baptism Travelujah

'The Wall of New Life' is Yardenit’s special feature that consists of panels in multiple languages that portray a verse from Mark describing the baptism of Jesus. "In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven; "Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9-11) 'The Wall of New Life' is dedicated to all who have received baptism at this place, and symbolizes the beginning of their new life.

Jordan River Baptism Travelujah

The site can accommodate several groups of pilgrims at once and at the site’s gift shop one can either rent or buy a white baptismal robe and a towel. In addition, there are spacious change facilities with showers and toilets.

How to get there: If driving a car, follow the signs leading to the Yardenit baptismal site along the road between Tiberias city and the Tzemach junction to its east. If you are thinking to take a public transportantion from Jerusalem, Egged bus #961, which continues to Yardenit, leaves from Jerusalem Central Bus Station at 2:15 pm and 3:15 pm. After 2 hours and 35 minutes on the way, go off at the bus stop next to Ezori Beit Yerah School and then walk south around 250 meters.

Opening hours:

March - November: Sun. – Thur. from 8 am till 6 pm and on Friday from 8 am till 4 pm. December – February: Sun. – Thur. from 8 am till 5 pm and on Friday from 8 am till 4 pm. Call on (04) 675-9111 to check site’s opening hours around the major Jewish holidays. There is no entry fee.

Daily Tours:

You can visit Qasr El Yahud on the Saturday weekly tour from Jerusalem called Qasr el Yahud and West Bank tour. Priced at 355 shekel per person (around $90). Alternatively you can visit with a private guide (and combine many other area sites as well, including Mt. Temptations, Jericho, Qumran, and the Dead Sea.

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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

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