Patriarch of Serbian Orthodox Church dies of coronavirus

Elias Hubbard
November 20, 2020

The leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, who often criticized Western policies toward Serbia and urged close relations with Slavic ally Russian Federation, has died after testing positive for the coronavirus, the church said Friday.

A brief church statement said that the patriarch died shortly after 7 a.m. Friday in a Belgrade military hospital.

The passing of the Patriarch comes as only last month Metropolitan Amfilohije, the senior Serbian Orthodox Church bishop in Montenegro, died at the age of 82 at the Clinical Centre of Montenegro in the capital Podgorica due to complications with pneumonia and COVID-19.

He served as the Bishop of Niš from 1975 until January 2010 when he was elected as the 45th Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church after the death of Patriarch Pavle.

Church bells throughout Serbia tolled and mourners flocked to light candles as the government proclaimed three days of national mourning.

Church bells tolled in Belgrade and many people flocked to the capital's main St Sava cathedral to mark the death of Irinej, a conservative who wielded considerable political influence in Serbia and maintained close ties with Russian Federation. The burial turned out to be a major coronavirus-spreading event, with several high ranking church officials and others who were there later testing positive.

The total number of COVID-infected people since the beginning of the pandemic has nearly reached 98,000, with 1,081 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Serbian Orthodox Church has around 12 million followers, mainly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia, with dioceses in the United States, Australia and Western Europe.

Patriarch Irinej insisted that the Serbian Orthodox Church would oppose any deal reached between the Belgrade government and authorities in Kosovo if it confirmed Kosovo remaining outside Serbian territory.

The Serbian church is one of a group of autocephalous, or independent, churches that make up the Orthodox Christian faith.

Irinej publicly supported Vucic's policies and awarded him the Order of Saint Sava, first grade, the Church's highest decoration. A year ago the patriarch criticised anti-government protests in Serbia.

This year and last, the Serbian Orthodox Church played a pivotal role in protests over a law on religion in Montenegro which allowed the state to seize some religious property. After the protests, the opposition won a parliamentary election. He opposed abortion and gay rights as a "deviation of human nature".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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