The leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, died of the coronavirus on Friday, according to the church, three weeks after attending the funeral of a senior bishop who died after contracting the virus.
The 90-year-old Patriarch Irinej was admitted to a military hospital in Serbia on November 4th, just days after he and thousands of unmasked people gathered in neighboring Montenegro to pay tribute to the country’s highest bishop, Metropolitan Amfilohije Radovic. whose body lay in an open coffin.
The majority of Serbia’s 7 million people identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, and Patriarch Irinej, born Miroslav Gavrilovic and enthroned as the 45th leader of the church in 2010, he was a major political force in the Balkan state. He opposed Serbia’s accession to the European Union, unless the nation’s “culture and religion” were respected. And he was open in his condemnation of both abortion and gay rights. “It is a woman’s duty to give birth in order to revive the nation,” he once told a local newspaper.
He was also one of the few conservative clerics open to possible rapprochement with the Roman Catholic Church to resolve historical enmity.
In 2019, when protests took place in Serbia to oppose the autocratic march of President Aleksandar Vucic, he condemned the tens of thousands who took to the streets.
On Friday, Mr Vucic paid tribute to Patriarch Irinej on Instagram.
“It was an honor to know you,” Mr Vucic wrote. “People like you never leave.”
After largely avoiding widespread coronavirus outbreaks in the spring, several Balkan countries, including Serbia, have faced an increase in cases in recent weeks. On Thursday, Serbia reported a record 6,109 new daily cases, likely underestimating the level of infection due to sporadic tests.
Last week, Serbia began fining people for failing to comply with government restrictions, which include wearing a mask.
In Montenegro, where the virus is also spreading rapidly, it is in the middle of a two-week curfew, with people banned from leaving their homes between 11pm and 5am, except for basic work and “medical and humanitarian needs”. .
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