An estimated 15,000 people attended the annual Feast of the Epiphany celebrations on Tuesday (January 18, 2011) at Qasr el Yahud, on the banks of the Jordan River, according to the Orthodox Church Info blog.
The ceremony, which celebrates Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist, drew Orthodox Christian pilgrims from around the world, and featured a procession from the Monastery of St. John led by Theophilos III, the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and a waterside ceremony.
Qasr el Yahud -- located near the Palestinian city of Jericho -- is considered the third most holy site for Christian pilgrims, as it is only surpassed by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It is the site where -- according to the New Testament -- John the Baptist first baptized Jesus and where Jesus began His ministry.
At the height of the Epiphany ceremony, the patriarch released white doves -- symbolizing the presence of God -- into the air, while church bells rang in the background and pilgrims on both sides of the river sang out prayers. The doves flew across the river to the Jordanian side and perched above the heads of the crowd.