An Insight into the Greek-Orthodox Community of Jordan
An Insight into the Greek-Orthodox Community of Jordan
By Irene Archos on July 1, 2012
The saying, “Opou geis, kai patris,” is a familiar one attesting to the
Greek spirit of seeking out fortune and adapting to many foreign soils.
But as evidenced by the Greek community of Madaba, Jordan, not only can
Greeks simply exist in foreign lands, they usually prosper.
At the heart of this community is the Orthodox Church of St. George. The
church broke ground in 1884, when the Greek Orthodox community saved
enough funds to start construction. But to the surprise of the builders,
under it were the remains of a Byzantine dating back to the 3rd century.
It was on the floor of this ancient Greek church that the earliest, most
extant map of Palestine was found; it literally put the map on the map.
With 157 captions (in Greek) depicting all the major biblical sites of
the Middle East, the mosaic constructed in AD 560, was originally around
25m long (some experts claim 15m is more accurate) and 6m wide. It once
contained more than two million pieces but only one-third of the
original mosaic has survived.
Next to the church and second in importance to the community is the
Greek Orthodox School of St. George. Headed by Father Innokentios, a
resident of Jordan for close to 50 years, the school provides a high
quality education to both Christian and Muslim students alike. It is
ranked among the top ten private school establishments in Jordan and
currently has a waiting list of 540 students, of which only one-third
have room to be admitted. The school is part of a larger network of
schools under the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate which boast 6,000 students
in 13 schools, with 800 teaching staff.
“This is the oldest Christian educational establishment in this land,
dating back from the early days of the Ottoman Empire,” says Father
The Orthodox community, he states, dates back to the early Christian
period in this land and was never imported.
While the school is considered the most prestigious in the town of
Madaba, it was established to help the less fortunate and caters to
low-income families as it charges a quarter of the tuition similar
private schools in Jordan ask for. “The job of the Church is to support
people, and this [providing education] has been by far the greatest
contribution of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate to the local society,”
Innokentios maintains. The school promotes “mutual respect and peaceful
coexistence’” among youngsters of different religious communities.
According to Mays Kawakneh, an Assistant Principal there for 11 years,
the most distinctive feature of the school is that “it helps poor people
regardless of religion or nationality.”
The Patriarchate ran the only language school to learn Greek in Amman.
However, after the collapse of the Greek economy two years ago with the
onset of the crisis, most of the Greek teachers imported from the
mainland were retracted leaving the facility to struggle. Independent
efforts to sustain the teaching of Greek are currently being made by the
Orthodox community to keep its doors open, yet it remains hard to keep
the language and culture alive without any native teachers of Greek.
However, St George Greek Orthodox School does provide after-school Greek
lessons as it does advanced ESOL certificates in conjunction with its
partnership with the British Council.
There are approximately 500 Greeks in greater Jordan, according to the
latest figures by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and close to 150
families comprising of both Greek partners. Most have settled in the
area either by way of intercultural marriage or business. The main Greek
association is the “Association of Greek Women of Jordan,” which is
active socially and culturally and organizes film screenings, talks, and
events about Greece as well as celebrates traditional holidays
Greek-style. A Parent-Teacher Association has been set up to support the
Greek community school and promote the teaching of Greek language and
culture to young Greeks, who are active through the “Association of
Greek Youth of Jordan”.
Litsa Karathanassis, a Greek professional woman married to a Jordanian,
is an active member of the Hellenic community in Jordan. Her
grandparents fled the Turks as refugees in Asia Minor to settle in
Jerusalem where her parents were born to become refugees once again as a
result of the Israeli invasion of Palestine in 1948. Born and educated
in Jordan, she feels very strongly about her Greek roots. She states,
“Our heritage is unique and it is up to us to keep it alive. It is our
duty as Greeks to go beyond ‘just being Greeks’ and remind everyone how
our ancestors have impacted the world. On the other hand, we need to
realize that we cannot keep living in the glories of the past and we
need to work very hard today to remain worthy of such rich heritage.”
The Greek Orthodox faithful in Jordan are estimated at some 120,000,
most of whom are Arabic speaking. There are currently 29 Greek Orthodox
churches – with that number on the increase – which come under the
St George Orthodox School is always in need of volunteers to teach
English or Greek. Teaching a year in Jordan would be ideal for a retired
couple or a young person on his/her gap year. The job comes with
attractive living accommodations, medical insurance, Arabic lessons, and
spending cash. For further details, contact Father Innokentios at
*Irene Archos is also the creator of the blog greekamericangirl.com