For the first time in 2000 years since Lord's Epiphany, the River of Jordan hasn't flow back.
The original place of Lord's Baptism it's known because it's the same place where God stop the waters, and Joshua Nave passed through the dried bed of river, together with the Hebrew nation, into today's land of Israel (Joshua Nave 3:16-17); it's the same place where Holy Prophet Elijah stricken the water with his fur-coat, and the waters flew back (4 Kings 2:8). This is the place where Christ the Saviour came and was baptised by St. John the Forerunner, who preached on the eastern shore, where today is an Orthodox church, on the Jordanian side of the river.
In the first ages, it used to begin about noon, the Vesper of Lord's Epiphany, joined with the Liturgy of Sf. Basil the Great. Afterwards, it was accomplished the service of blessing the waters, and when the bishop went down to the river, in the place where Christ the Saviour was baptised, the waters started to flew back. And they flew back as long as where catechumens to be baptised in Jordan. After the catechumens were baptised, the Christian crowd attended to the following all-night vigil, and in the morning they communed at the Divine Liturgy - all of them, including those newly-baptised.
After the Persians came in 614 A.D. and destroyed all the churches and monasteries in the Holy Land, in 637 A.D. came the Muslim Arabs, which took power over those places; they are predominant until these days in what is called Cisiordania or West bank. Slowly, slowly, under many pressures, the Christians abandoned the custom of staying three days at Jordan, and came only for the service of Great Agiasma. Only after the arrival of tens of thousands of Russians pilgrims in the 19th century (starting with 1836, until Bolshevik Revolution of 1917) managed to raised a little the spiritual life in Holy Land.
After the Six Day War of 1967, the monasteries near Jordan river were closed (including the Romanian Skete, where Fr. Damian Stog was shot to death because he refused to leave the skete), because they were situated in the 5 kilometres border region of Israel state. From that time, the original place of Christ the Saviour's Baptism can be visited unrestricted only if you come through Jordania; through Israel, you can visit it only three times in year, 2 times for the Orthodox - on 5th January by Church (Julian) Calendar (18th January by Civil - Gregorian - Calendar) and in the Holy Great Tuesday, before Pascha - and 1 time for Roman-Catholics, in the last Thursday of October.
The number of the pilgrims who came to Jordan, to see the miracle, increased every year. Last year were approximately 10.000 pilgrims. This year were more than 20.000 people only in the Israelite side, and on the other side of the river, in Jordania, came approximately 5.000, as far I could tell seeing the buses. Many thousands of those who came last year were Jews; I saw a couple of hundreds coming after the blessing of the waters in Hozeba, where I dwelled last year. This year also came several thousands of Jews, to see the miracle with their own eyes. Unfortunately, the miracle didn't take place.
About 11:30 hours, Patriarch Theophil of Jerusalem begun Vespers of Epiphany, followed by the blessing of Agiasma in a space arranged specially, up on the river side, and after that Patriarch and the priests went down to Jordan. The last year (as in every year before), as I saw on a video recording, the waters begun to get wild, then, after a couple of minutes, flew backwards; this year, though, it didn't happened this way! Jordan flew very slowly, almost inertial, downwards, to the Dead See. The Patriarch and his clerics stayed more than 10 minutes there, making prayers near the water, but nothing happened. Why so? The Israelite Army forbade anyone else to come near the waters. No one of the thousands of pilgrims who came at Jordan was able to come near water. The ones who wanted to take Great Agiasma from Jordan were able to do this only up the shore, from several water pumps which pulled water from Jordan. Usually, the flow back of Jordan is accomplished by the coming up-river of the salt waters of Dead See; the salt water being more dense, it came beneath and reach the surface in those whirlpools produced when the waters of Jordan get blessed. This is reason why the Great Agiasma of this day is salty. I must admit that the Agiasma I drank today from Jordan has a bit different taste from the usual taste of river's water, I mean a bit salty (but not like the one I took last year), and this may be the reason because the waters were so calm, almost still.
I can't recall the year, but something similar happened almost 30 years ago, in the time of the last Patriarch Diodoros. The Christian Arabs of Bethlehem have the habit to come in the Church of Resurrection, at the service of Holy Fire, hitting drums and walking amongst the crowd, making a great noise, singing, clapping their hands, screaming and hitting drums. The Israelite Police decided that year to forbid Arabs entering inside the church, for them not to cause any more trouble. The Patriarch entered the Holy Tomb and begun to pray, but after he read the prayer of invocation the Holy Light, this haven't came as in the last years! Being a spiritual man, God enlighten him to know the Holy Light didn't show because of the Arabs who were kept outside church. He told then the Israelite policemen to let the Arabs enter, and in the moment they came into church, the Holy Fire came too.
In all the divine works it can be seen the divine order and the cooperation of God with men. Jordan River flows back in the memory of the One who was baptised there 2000 years ago. And it flows back until today, for those who get baptised in this day, and for the cleansing of their sins. But, because this year no man was allowed near water, neither to get baptised, the miracle didn't happened anymore. And the one who should have told: "Let the people come near water" didn't say a word.
For those who love speculations, maybe the reason of the interdiction to come near Holy River of Jordan was the great number of Jews, many of whom were baptised every year. The seeing of this miracle determined many of them to become Christians - either under closure, either openly. It was clear for them that the God of the Orthodox Christians was the One and only God. There any many Jews who got baptised here, in the Holy Land, becoming Orthodox Christians, although there isn't yet any church parish to serve in their language.
Today's happening is, for sure, a shame for all of us the Orthodox Christians. For the division amongst us, for the fraternal kisses with the heretical bodies, for the apostasy organised these days [the Week of Ecumenical Common Prayer for the Unity of Christians, started this year on 18 January - n.ed.] in almost all the Orthodox Churches. God turned His face from us. It were here Russians, Romanians, Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians and Orthodox Arabs. But aside from the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem, no other hierarch of another Orthodox Church was there. Only God was with the shepherdless people, because His peace and the blessing of the Jordan came powerful in the souls of those who were present, and the appearance of the Holy Trinity at Jordan River was invisible given by God to the souls who seek Him at Jordan.
Is it abominable that the Christians can't get baptised anymore in Jordan at the place of Saviour's Baptism? It is. Where are, then, those who should fight against this injustice? Maybe at the Olympics of apostasy held these days?
Lord wants from us tears of repentance. As long as we don't confess before those without God, who drag us towards misdeeds, only His heavenly mercy can make something right, for those who, knowing themselves to be sinful, want yet to be saved. So let us cry together with St. John of Dalyatha:
"I have leaved Thee; don't leave me. I have came out from Thee; come out to seek me. And take me to Thy pasture, and count me together with the sheep of Thy flock, and nurture me together with them from the greenery of Thy Divine Mysteries; of those pure heart is Thy dwelling, and in it can be seen the light of Thy revelations, which is comfort and peace for those who make ascesis for Thee in sorrows and into torments of all kind."
Let us not despair, but come into our senses, and sanctify ourselves in humbleness and confession, praying.
"O, Lord, may You seek from above and look and visit this Vineyard (Church), which was made by Thy right, and perfect it!"
6/19 January, 2008