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Christians Flock to Jordan River but Unable to Take Plunge

ICC Note

“It was a very bad surprise. I came prepared to go into the Jordan river ,”

By Jeremy Reynalds

April 23, 2008 Palestine (ANS) – Thousands of Orthodox Christian pilgrims flocked Tuesday to the site where they believe Jesus was baptized. However, they were unable to enter the Jordan River .

The AFP News Service reported that pilgrims from Greece , Eastern Europe , Russia and other parts of the Orthodox world marched in procession from the Qasr Al-Yahud monastery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, down to the Biblical river.

According to the AFP, Israeli security forces kept a close eye on the celebrations to ensure no one strayed onto the surrounding minefields, or rushed down to the waters that mark the border with Jordan .

The AFP reported that a Palestinian Boy Scout marching band from the nearby occupied West Bank town of Jericho welcomed Christians to the site, which is set in a landscape of arid hills, barbed wire and military positions.

Pilgrims were disappointed they couldn’t descend the steep banks to the river, the AFP reported.

“It was a very bad surprise. I came prepared to go into the Jordan river,” said Theologos Dimakopoulos, who traveled from New York to attend the Orthodox Holy Week that culminates in Sunday’s Easter celebration.

The AFP reported he added, “I’m still hoping God may intervene to allow us to immerse ourselves.”

The AFP story commented that his prayers were unanswered, though one priest did manage to slip through the security and plunge into the muddy water, much to the delight of tourists on the Jordanian side, just a few yards away.

According to the AFP, pilgrims in years past rushed into the river to perform ritual immersions in commemoration of their baptisms, but that has been banned by Israel, which only opens the otherwise closed military area to the public a few times a year.

Instead, the story recounted, those wishing baptism stood under showers set up above the Jordan , drenching themselves in water pumped from the river.

“I have no words to describe the joy, the blessings I feel,” said Greek pilgrim Chrisa Giauiki. “It is like being baptized again,” the AFP reported she said.

According to a story by Beth Marlowe published by the Associated Press (AP), Israel said it told local Orthodox Christian leaders in advance that access to the river would be closed, said Capt. Adam Avidan, of the Israeli military department that coordinated the event with Palestinian and Jordanian authorities.

While some pilgrims were upset about the blockage, the AP reported that most said they were thrilled by the experience.

“Thirty feet doesn’t make that much of a difference to me in a spiritual sense,” said Stefan-Igor Reljic of New York .