Over the weekend, over 20,000 Christians from around the world gathered at the Jordan River to be baptized.
The Jordan River is believed to be the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, as well as where the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land and where Elijah ascended to heaven.
The annual pilgrimage started in January when five Christian denominations held baptismal ceremonies at the River. Coptic and Armenian Christians will continue with other events later this month.
Israel has embraced the Christian community trekking through their country to honor their faith.
“The Civil Administration put much effort in order to prepare for these important ceremonies as part of its program to preserve freedom of religion and worship for all Christian denominations,” said Jericho District Coordination and Liaison Administration head Lieutenant Colonel Eran Gross. “Thanks to the ceremonies, we see a marked rise in tourism alongside a boost to the economy, for which I am thankful. On this occasion, I would like to wish all members of the Christian community happy holidays.”
For those who cannot travel to the Jordan, Christians dunk themselves into freezing rivers all over the country, including in Russia. According to the Moscow Times, stations were set up for believers and non-believers to go under the icy waters.
Israel also challenged Christians and Jews alike to maintain peace.
“Just like anti-Jewish prejudice is not Christian, anti-Christian prejudice is not Jewish,” said Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. “We must recommit ourselves to countering all acts of hatred, incitement and violence, between religious communities in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Sadly, again this year, Christians were killed in the Middle East, simply for keeping their faith. Jerusalem must serve as a model for peace and harmony between religions.”
Pilgrims were warned to stay away from the “Land of the Monasteries,” a 250-acre area near the baptismal site, while they were visiting. The site is home to landmines leftover from the Six-Day War, but the country is actively working to remove the mines and hopes to clear them all by the end of the year.
“Already the number of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land is increasing each year,” said Rivlin. “Just this year, close to 900,000 pilgrims visited the Land of Monasteries. We are working hard to complete the development of the entire area by the end of 2020.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Lior Mizrahi/Stringer
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.