The 90-year old Serbian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Irinej died of COVID-19 on Friday morning.
Just two weeks before, on November 1, the patriarch officiated a massive public funeral for Montenegro’s Serbian Orthodox leader Archbishop Amfilohijie, who also died of complications due to the coronavirus.
To the horror of public health officials, thousands gathered for the ceremony without masks or social distancing. Some mourners kissed the bishop’s dead body in the open casket.
After the funeral, Montenegro’s National Coordination Body for Infectious Diseases condemned the clergy’s ignorance of pandemic restrictions.
“By their personal example of disobeying imposed measures and encouraging a mass attendance, they showed an incomprehensible irresponsibility for the health and lives of citizens,” said the COVID-19 task force.
Three days after the funeral, patriarch Irinej himself was hospitalized as a result of a COVID infection.
In a press release by the Serbian Orthodox Church, Belgrade Hospital Commander-in-Chief Colonel Ivo Udovičić announced that “the general health condition of His Holiness Irinej, Serbian Patriarch, has deteriorated” on the morning of November 19 and was intubated.
Irinej’s death comes amidst a national spike in infections. More than 110,000 people have contracted the virus in Serbia and over a thousand have died.
Beyond leading the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej wielded major political influence in the country. He was very supportive of President Aleksandar Vucic and opposed anti-government protests in Serbia last year.
He was also an avid opponent of Kosovo’s declared independence in 2008. The Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church stated that “Serbia and the Serbian people will never accept the violent taking of Kosovo and Metohija.”
Patriarch Irinej often criticized the LGBTQ+ community and the annual Pride Parades.
“I feel sorry for those people who belong to the so-called gay community,” he told the weekly magazine Nedeljnik in 2014. “It is a disorder or deviation of human nature. I can understand them, as well as their problem, but I cannot understand what they impose on us and what they show in public.”
According to press communication from the Serbian Orthodox Church, the patriarch’s body will be displayed during the Holy Liturgy on November 21, with a funeral rite the next day.
Hopefully, mourners will pay their respects from a distance.