Israeli and Palestinian Christians defy pandemic restrictions and gather at Jesus’ baptism site

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Although pandemic restrictions are still limiting foreign tourism to Israel, there were more than 30 times as many Christians this year than last year from Israel and the Palestinian Authority who gathered at the Jordan River to celebrate the baptism of Jesus by John.

The celebration began with prayers at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. John the Baptist.

“It is the memorial day of the baptism of Jesus Christ,” said Father Bartholomeos, abbot of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Saint John the Baptist. “So the Patriarch and all the brotherhood we come here [to the] Jordan River to render service here since about 2000 years ago [ago].”

Then the devotees began the one-kilometre hike to the Jordan River, where the country of Jordan is only several dozen meters away.

Known as Qasr al-Yahud (“Tower of the Jews” in Arabic), many believe it to be the place where Jesus was baptized by John, where the children of Israel passed through the promised land, and where the prophet Elijah was transported. to heaven in a chariot of fire.

“Every year we have more than 15,000 pilgrims from Greece, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, from all Orthodox countries. But this year, unfortunately, we are just the people who lived here,” Father Bartholomeos told CBN News.

Before the pandemic, some 800,000 pilgrims visited the site each year. While only about 50 were allowed last year, some 1,700 took part in this year’s annual celebration.

“This year there were more people than last year because the Corona guidelines were expanded, but there were still fewer people compared to previous years,” said Lt. Col. Amos Twito, chief from the Coordination and Liaison Office of the Jericho District of Israel. Defense Forces.

Located in what is known as the land of the monasteries, the region is in biblical Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank. Under Israeli security control, Israelis and Palestinians are welcome.

“Qasr al-Yahud, the baptismal site, is a religious site, generally open to all religions [and] peoples, to anyone who wants to come here without restriction of religion, race or gender,” Twito told CBN News.

This includes Christian foreign workers who live in Israel, like Sophie.

“Today is the best, best and most wonderful day in the world! I’m glad I came here and have this opportunity, that there is a church here and I feel good. I thank God for this,” Sophie told CBN News.

And even some Israelis visited the holy place.

“We have 35 incredible Israelis. We are really drawn to this beautiful day. First of all, we’re lucky, you know, beautiful, the most fantastic weather. And of course this incredible site, which is actually the third holiest site in Christianity in the world after the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity,” said Moshe Maoz, a licensed Israeli tour guide, who runs the group.

“And the fact that Israelis – Jewish Israelis – we were born here. We are educated here. We have definitely been exposed to the Bible and some of us to the New Testament. And here we are in the Holy Land! It is the treasure of the world. That’s where it all started here. We are here, we are citizens here,” Maoz told CBN News. “So why not [come] see the treasure and the beauty of this country?

Maoz had a message for anyone yearning to return.

“This is the Holy Land, the true Holy Land of the world, the center of the world. Please come!”

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