Patriarch of Serbian Orthodox Church dies of coronavirus

Remigio Civitarese
Novembre 22, 2020

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

Bells on churches throughout Serbia tolled and mourners flocked to light candles as the government proclaimed three days of national mourning.

Patriarch Irinej, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, died of coronavirus on Friday, three weeks after his unofficial second-in-command also succumbed to Covid-19, the church said.

At that funeral, thousands of mourners, a lot of them with no masks or keeping any distance between each other, gathered in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica on November 1, in violation of coronavirus-fighting measures proclaimed by the small Adriatic state's authorities.

The protocol of the funeral envisages that the Serbian member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, will also speak.

In the aftermath of the funeral, Serbian priests have been appealing to their parishioners to take the virus seriously. They had previously downplayed the threat from the global pandemic.

"I was honored to know you. People like you never really go away", the president said on Instagram, commemorating the patriarch.

Irinej was elected to the highest position in the Serbian Orthodox Church in January 2010.

Throughout his church reign, he maintained the hardline, anti-Western nationalist stance, criticizing the country's advances to the West and urging instead, closer relations with Russian Federation.

Irinej had met Putin and Russia's Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, underscoring the close cultural and religious ties between the two Slavic countries.

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.

The vast majority of Serbia's population of seven million identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, and the church is a major force in the Balkan country.

Born Miroslav Gavrilovic in a village southwest of Belgrade, Irinej opposed the independence of Kosovo, Serbia's former southern province predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians.

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 Orthodox Churches split from the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in the 11th century in an event called the Great Schism.

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