Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Dies From COVID-19

Cheryl Sanders
November 22, 2020

He had close ties with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, criticising mass anti-government protests that erupted in Serbia in 2019.

At that funeral, thousands of mourners, majority 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.

A conservative who wielded considerable political influence, Irinej was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus on November 4 and had been in a military hospital in Belgrade since then.

The patriarch became the first cleric to be buried in the crypt of the church, which is still under construction.

It turned out to be a major coronavirus-spreading event, with several high ranking church officials and others who were there later testing positive.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also attended the burial in Montenegro.

The sound of the bells from Church of Saint Sava, the biggest temple in the Balkans, rang out as the faithful stood next to each other in the cold in the square outside the building.

He tested positive after attending the November 1 funeral of Metropolitan Amfilohije, the Serbian Orthodox Church's senior cleric in Montenegro, who also died from COVID-19.

Following the news of Irinej's death, President Vucic paid tribute to the man who often criticised Western policies towards Serbia and urged close relations with Slavic ally Russian Federation.

Serbia's Ministry of Health reported on Thursday that 104,097 people have been infected with coronavirus in the country since the start of the pandemic, with 1,110 deaths. "People like you are never gone".

Born Miroslav Gavrilovic on August 27, 1930, Irinej took over the influential church's helm in January 2010 after the death of his predecessor, Patriarch Pavle, who was a highly popular and respected church leader in the Balkan country.

Despite that, the socially conservative Patriarch was considered a relative moderate compared to some of the alternative candidates at that time. Following the news of Irinej's death, Vucic posted on Instagram Friday: "It was an honor to have known you", alongside a black and white photo of the patriarch.

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.

Serbs regard Kosovo as the cradle of Serbian Orthodox Christianity and it is home to some of the Serbian Orthodox Church's most important monasteries.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is firmly opposed to the independence of Kosovo, which is Serbia's former southern province and is predominantly populated by Albanians.

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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