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Rebuilding a Sure Foundation

One priest revives Jordan’s Orthodox schools

by Nicholas Seeley with photographs by Joseph Zakarian

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In 1998, Edward Eid was ready to resign.

A science teacher with 16 years of experience, Mr. Eid was fed up with his job at Patriarch Diodoros I School in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Operated by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the school had earned a bad reputation.

“It was a disaster,” Mr. Eid says. People saw the school as a place to get a cheap education rather than a quality one, he adds. Teachers were not paid competitive salaries, and families often enrolled their disobedient and unmotivated children as a last resort.

Mr. Eid, now 52, recalls acting as a kind of truant officer, visiting the homes of students cutting class and almost literally dragging them to school. Tall, broad-shouldered with a thick neck and big hands, Mr. Eid looks as if he might hold such a position. His easy smile even reveals ever-so-slightly chipped teeth, adding to his tough guy appeal.

But everything changed that day in 1998 when Mr. Eid met for the first time his new boss, Archimandrite Innokentios. The young priest had just taken charge of Jordan’s Orthodox schools with a mission to restore the high standards they long ago boasted. The two men hit it off at once.

“We chose each other,” Mr. Eid explains.

Today, Mr. Eid works directly under Archimandrite Innokentios, serving as the director of all patriarchal schools in Jordan. Not only have Jordan’s Orthodox schools regained their former high standing — a few are among the most reputable schools in the country — they have grown dramatically, tripling in size. The patriarchate’s 13 schools now provide an affordable and quality education to nearly 6,000 students and employ more than 640 people.

He is one of a kind,” says Mr. Eid about Archimandrite Innokentios. “He has told me many times: ‘In the end, I have nothing, no sons, no daughters, nothing. I want to do something important with my life; this something is the schools.’ So he sees the schools as his kids. He wants them to be the best, he helps support them — everything — just like what you do for your family.”

A short, cheerful man with a round face that is often split by an impish smile, the 59-year-old priest hardly looks the part of a visionary reformer.

Born in northern Greece, Archimandrite Innokentios first came to the Middle East as a teenager in 1964 to study at the patriarchal school in Jerusalem. As did many young men from Greece and Cyprus at the time, he came to the school for its excellent education. He returned to Greece after graduating and studied theology at the university. He later pursued graduate studies in Tel Aviv, where he decided to enter the priesthood.

“You can never know the will of God,” he says. “These are personal things. Sometimes they cannot be explained.”

After more than four decades of traveling between Greece and the Holy Land, he considers his life’s work the revitalization of Jordan’s Orthodox schools. It has been a task that has proved challenging.

“It’s not an easy job, running our schools — we don’t have some nice fellow coming and saying, ‘What’s your deficit?’ ” he says. “So the best thing is to reach a certain degree of financial independence and be self-contained and efficient. … This is thebest way: Stand firmly on your own feet.

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Tags: Education Jordan Christian-Muslim relations Orthodox Church Revival/restoration