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PILGRIMAGE 97
PICTURES AND STORIES
PART 8

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After Caesarea we drove north along the coast toward Haifa. We tried to visit Elijah's Cave but it was closed for the holidays. We took a wonderful sky car ride up the mountain where the cave is and enjoyed great views of the sea and town.



After Haifa we drove to Nazareth. There was horrible traffic there. We spent a lot of time just sitting in traffic not even knowing if we were heading in the right direction. We were looking for the Church of the Annunciation, the largest church in Nazareth.

Before I tell you about what we did next, I'll have to give some background first. Being an independent Christian of sorts, I've had to be personally responsible for how I handle all of my doctrinal obligations. One of the biggest questions I've faced as far as doctrine was concerned was the nature and purpose of baptism. I was baptized as an infant, but in my studies as an adult I became concerned with the reasonable argument that baptism should involve repentance and a choice to seek God's will, which you obviously can't do as an infant.

So for about the last 5 or 6 years I've been semi-actively looking for opportunities to get baptized as an adult. Nothing ever seemed to work out though. Then when I went to Israel in 1995 I looked for any opportunity, but being on the tour kept my free time to a minimum. I was really disappointed. Then when I was considering the trip this year and all the reasons to go, I remembered of course how I was denied my chance in 1995 and that, if I went, I would get baptized no matter what.

The Jordan River baptismal site is located where the Jordan River begins at the south-western end of the Sea of Galilee, and about 1/2 mile downstream from the lake. The site is called Yardenit. (Side Note: It is believed that Jesus was baptized closer to Jerusalem near Jericho, which is about 50 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. That area is under some sort of political dispute, so no baptisms of tourists are performed there. The site at Yardenit is for tourists and is not meant to be an historical site.)

Rafael and I first visited Yardenit on Sunday (back in Part 2) when we did Tiberias and the Mount of the Beatitudes and the Boat Ride. It was mid-morning on Sunday and I had hoped or assumed that there would be some tour group there for a group baptism, but there wasn't. I talked to the manager of the site and asked if there were any planned baptisms, and he said it was all done by drop-in only. Rafael and I hung out for about 20 minutes waiting to see what kind of people were coming to the site, and maybe someone would be getting baptized. Nothing. Just tourists and their cameras. Finally we decided to leave, but I gave the manager my cellular phone number and asked him to call me if any group showed up and I would drive back and hopefully join their group. (I had rented the cell phone to use in case we got lost at any time during our trip, but it worked great for this purpose too.)

I never got a call that day, and I even checked in with them a couple of times to see if any groups had shown up. Nothing. The manager also gave me the names and phone numbers of two local pastors who were sort of on-call baptizers. I tried calling both of them all day. I finally got through to one of them, and he said he was too busy. I was incredibly depressed over it all, and I decided that since it was only the third day of our trip that I might still be able to come back later in the week, even if it meant driving the 100 miles by myself while Rafael did stuff on his own.

Now back to the present on Friday. Nazareth is only about 45 minutes from Tiberias and Yardenit, and I had been calling the 2 baptizers all that day from my cell phone to see if they were available, but they weren't home. When Rafael and I finished at the Church of the Annunciation, it was about 3:00 PM, and the manager at Yardenit had told me on Sunday that the latest they allow baptisms is 4:00 PM. My point is, I had run out of time, and the thought of failure was finally sinking in. I made one last phone call to the second baptizer who I was never able to get a hold of before, and (miraculously?) he answered. I told him my situation and pleaded with him, and he said he would leave ASAP and meet me at Yardenit before they closed the baptisms at 4:00 PM. After the arrangement was made, it was probably one of the happiest moments of my life.

We made it to Yardenit by 3:45 PM and he was already there. The facility has gowns and changing rooms you can use. A detail that had worried me, even before I planned on getting baptized, was who should do it? And what kind of baptismal formula should be used? It didn't bother me to the point that I would think that the baptism would be invalid. For me, my own state of mind and relationship with God was the most important factor, and that the baptism itself was a outward sign to witnesses that "I am a Christian." So before I met the man who would actually be doing it, I was worried about how awkward it might be for either of us.

When we got into the water, he said, "What you are doing is for righteousness sake." And I thought to myself, "Yeah that's the reason." I was doing it because of fear of God and how I might be wrong or mislead in being confident in my infant baptism. Righteousness is when you do something because you believe it to be the will of God, often at a cost to yourself or your pride or self-will. The fear that had been inside of me for those many years would very shortly be relieved because I was being baptized for righteousness sake because God put it in my heart that I should take this precaution (not knowing with certainty what the doctrine of baptism really, really obliged me to do).

He also said something to the effect that baptism was to be done in front of witnesses, and the people who were standing around watching us would be our witnesses. This also struck a chord with me because I've felt that since I don't belong to a particular church, then my real community is with all Christians. And here at Yardenit were all sorts of Christians from all over the world, standing around and watching me get baptized.



So after years and years of me waiting, and paragraphs and paragraphs of you reading, here it is. This guy in yellow got in the way a little bit. He was collecting souvenir samples of water.

After the baptism we drove to Mount Tabor which was the site of the Transfiguration. Mount Tabor is an unusual looking mountain or hill because it is perfectly round. It looks like a giant bowl turned upside down. And it's in the middle of a valley with no other hills touching it. Very strange.

On top of the mountain are two churches, the largest being the Church of the Transfiguration. In the New Testament during the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus. For that reason the church has several paintings of Moses and Elijah.



Top photo: Front of the Church of the Transfiguration. It was one of the most impressive churches we saw in Israel. The church is very solid looking, possibly something to do with the architectural style?

Middle photo: The painting above the altar. You can see Jesus in the middle, with Moses on the left and Elijah on the right, with apostles flanking below.

Bottom photo: A wall painting of Elijah from the scene in 1 Kings 18.

Return to: Pilgrimage 97 Itinerary and Links

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