We arrived a little later than expected at the Marriott Hotel in Amman. Although some ate inside, many were directed to the pool area where some hot food was waiting. By now it was evening and growing dark and there was a cold breeze blowing outside – very cold, in fact. This was another opportunity for good humor and patience. The angels had prepared a joke for us: as we ate, music was playing over the loud speakers. It was a Christmas selection. First of all there was the song, "Winter Wonderland" which was followed by "I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas." There were many smiles as well as shivers, and the next day, a few colds! It is one of the treasured memories of our pilgrimage. Some of us then went inside and heard Vassula’s guests speaking. One of them was the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, Right Reverend Riah Abu El-Assal, a respected figure and well-known to some of our Anglican pilgrims. We were also graced with the presence and formal welcome of Mr. Akel Biltaji of the Royal Hashemite Court and advisor to his Majesty King Abdullah II.
Vassula with Archbishop Boutros Mouallem, Bishop of Galilee, Right Reverend Riah Abu El-Assal, Bishop, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East, and Mr. Akel Biltaji, Advisor to the King Abdullah of Jordan
Mr. Biltaji said,
"I am here on behalf of his Majesty King Abdullah the II. We welcome you to Jordan! This is where it all began… This is the cradle of faith; walking and following the steps of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus and Mohammed. This is where Judaism, Christianity and Islam are Love in one God. This trip from what I understand from you, Vassula, is all about love, reconciliation, tolerance, and patience, that is exactly what is needed here. This land where Moses asked us all to come, this land where the Heavens opened and declared at the baptism of Jesus: "this is my beloved Son of whom I am very well pleased..."
"We welcome you and we want you to take back with you our message: the message of Islam; we want also to reach out. Islam is love. May the most compassionate and merciful God hear us. Islam is mercy. To be a Moslem we must recognize the others. I cannot be a Moslem if I'm not a Christian and if I'm not a Jew. So this is how we, in this part of the world, believe. In the spirit that is now in each and every one of us, may the Lord see whether in a monastery, a mosque, sanctuary, or a synagogue, see the spirit that you (Vassula) bring with you and that I can see on their faces, the smiles, the love, from 38 countries. Politicians could not do this. Religion did that. That is why we have to always hold on to our values."
Vassula with Advisor to the King Abdullah of Jordan
"I belong to a group, like Rt. Rev. Riah (Anglican Bishop). We are the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. He is our teacher. Mohammed is our teacher. Moses is our teacher. We need them all. That is why this week I will be in Nazareth, my city. Right from the Heart of Jordan in Amman, and on behalf of his Majesty, thank you for opening our hearts and our minds and eyes. We have a full moon for you tonight so you can sleep at night. We wish you a happy Pilgrimage and God bless you." Read more here
The next day we journeyed to Bethania, or Bethany, on the River Jordan to the site of the baptism of The Lord. We celebrated the Eucharist in the small Orthodox Church in the heat of the day. The chief celebrant was Bishop Jeremias who was resplendent in his robes, in spite of the oppressive heat. His wonderful voice added to a joyful celebration. The fire of the Holy Spirit was certainly present!
Jordan River (left), Greek Orthodox Church at the baptismal site (right)
Priest and Bishop Jeremias (left), Father Smeir and Bishop Jeremias (right)
Procession of the Eucharist (left), Vassula and the Imam at the baptismal site (right)
It had been in the area of Bethany that the Hebrews crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. This is an important detail for our understanding of the ministry of John the Baptist. His message was "repent!" Repentance means both "turning back" and "changing one’s mind," moving away from sin.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the boy says, "I will go back to my father." John the Baptist is bringing the people back to the other side of the Jordan, as if saying, "Go back and start again."
Jesus, the new Moses, especially according to St. Matthew’s Gospel, comes to this point, Bethany, as mentioned in St. John, and then, as it were, goes back, by going into the desert for forty days and forty nights. This is a return to the wilderness in which Jesus does what we are not able to do: He perfectly travels the way of obedience and liberation. Jesus truly IS our WAY, our TRUTH and our LIFE. In Him we find true OBEDIENCE and LIBERATION from sin; ONLY in Christ and in no one else.
John proclaims repentance, the people pray for forgiveness and Jesus takes it upon Himself and is the Father’s answer to His people’s prayers. When we want to start again and move away from sin we go to Christ, and our way back to the "far side of the Jordan" is to renew our baptismal promises, which we do, not only at Easter, but in the Sacrament of Confession where, in the name of Christ, the bishop or priest absolves us. The Latin root of the word "absolve" has the sense of "loosen" or "release." Through the Church, Christ sets us free; liberates us from sin. Our active participation involves the return to our Baptism when we first encountered the Christ who was immersed in the Jordan – the Father’s answer to the prayers of those seeking forgiveness and renewal, and Who walked the same earth as we, showing perfect obedience to the Father, so that we could find our true selves in Christ and know His Father as "Our Father."
We continued on our way to the Dead Sea. Some went bathing, or more likely, floating! Others, who felt the need of coolness and shade, stayed in the nearby hotel. We left there for Petra where we checked in at two hotels. We had some memorable meetings with Vassula and everyone was in good spirits. Our Buddhist and Moslem companions spoke, as did several others.
Pilgrims covered with mineral-rich mud, Dead Sea