THE JORDAN RIVER
St. Matthew 3:13-17
At that time cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad Him, saying, I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered Him. And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I was well pleased.
The Jordan River is the most important river in the Holy Land, both as a source of water and because of its association with religious events in both the Old and New Testaments. The Israelites camped on its banks (Joshua 3:1), and the water of the Jordan became “as a wall,” allowing the people to cross over on dry ground (Joshua 3:13-17). It parted again for the Prophets Elias and Elisseus when the water was smitten with the mantle of Elias (II Kings 2:8-13). The Prophet Elisseus sent Naaman the Syrian to bathe in its waters seven times to cure his leprosy (II Kings 5:10), and by means of a stick, Elisseus retrieved from its waters the axe head that had slipped off its handle (II Kings 6:1-7). On the banks of the Jordan, the Forerunner and Baptist preached repentance and baptized people in its streams (St. Matthew 3:5-6) and then was vouchsafed to baptize our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ (St. Matthew 3:13-17).
Four streams combine to form the Jordan River, which enters the Sea of Galillee at its northeastern tip and leaves it at its southwestern corner. Called the “Rusher,” the Jordan River constantly erodes its banks as it flows toward the Dead Sea. At the time of this writing, the traditional site of our Lord’s baptism by St. John the Baptist is inaccessible as it is in a military zone. The monastery of St. John the Baptist which, by tradition, stood near the site of the Baptism and on the site of the Cave of the Forerunner, has been shelled. This area east of Jericho has also been identified with the ancient Bethbara (Aramaic for “crossing”), the place where the Israelites crossed the Jordan with the Ark. The current here is very strong and the water is often a brown color from all the sediment that it carries.
Pilgrims wishing to immerse themselves in the sanctified waters of the Jordan generally go to Yardenit, a place close to where the Jordan leaves the Sea of Galilee. Yardenit offers changing rooms for pilgrims as well as very easy access to the water, since the current is much more gentle here. The traditional attire for Orthodox pilgrims is a long white baptismal robe (hetona) which pilgrims save to be buried in.
Dismissal Troparion of Theophany
When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest; for the voice of the Father bare witness to Thee, calling Thee His beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the certainty of the word. O Christ our God, Who has appeared and hast enlightened the world, glory be to Thee.
-From A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land For Orthodox Christians by Holy Nativity Convent, St. Nectarios Press: Seattle, Washington, 1997.