VENICE — The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, visited the Mekhitarist Abbey of St. Lazarus of the Armenians, in Venice, on November 15. This marked the first visit by the head of the Greek Church to the Monastery of St. Lazarus in three centuries, since Fr. Abbot Mekhitar of Sebaste founded it in 1717.
Accompanied by the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy and Malta Gennadios and the Archimandrite Evangelos Yfantidis, the patriarch was welcomed by the Pontifical Delegate for the Mekhitarist Congregation, Archbishop Levon Zekiyan, and the fathers of the congregation, in the presence of a group of fellow collaborators and members of the local Armenian community during his visit.
Received at the entrance of the monastery, the patriarch was accompanied by the Fathers in the church of St. Lazarus for a moment of prayer, with the Armenian chants of Aysor Astvazutiun and Hrashapar and the Greek song Phos hilaron. Then, a vocal group directed by Justine Rapaccioli sang the armenian Sanctus (Surb Surb), after which the patriarch gave his blessings.
Afterwards, in the main hall of the Library, Zekiyan addressed a greeting speech to the Patriarch, in which he briefly evoked the historical presence of the Armenian community of Constantinople and its relations with the Orthodox Church. Then, the Patriarch expressed fraternity and gratitude words for the hospitality “in this very important center of Armenian spirituality and culture”, which he designated as “truly an oasis of peace and prayer.” His Holiness then affirmed that, in a world marked by the growth of religious fundamentalism, “it is necessary for the Christian family to return to speak in one voice,” not in a sort of opposition to anyone, but “in the way of proclaiming the God’s word.” Recalling the importance of the manuscripts collection of the San Lazzaro Library, he also expressed his personal appreciation to the Mekhitarist Congregation, for his “custody of the greatest cultural heritage of the Armenian Nation.”
The speeches were followed by the exchange of gifts and the signing of the visitors Golden Book by the patriarch. Zekiyan then accompanied Patriarch Bartholomew and Metropolitan Gennadios in the halls of the Museum and Library. In the manuscript hall, the fathers showed for the occasion the precious Gospel Book of Queen Mlkhe, dated 862.
All this ended with a fraternal agape in the refectory of the Monastery. The Patriarch commented: “I spent an unforgettable day with you. I will take a great remembrance to Constantinople!”