COVID-19 guidelines are averted on the funeral of a church chief who died of a virus

Thousands attended the funeral of the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who died of COVID-19 just weeks after leading the open coffin service of a bishop who was also killed by the virus.

Despite the pandemic, many of the mourners who attended the ceremony for Patriarch Irinej in Belgrade did not wear masks or respect social distance and kissed the glass that covered the body, ignoring the pleas from the church itself and health officials.

Even some of the priests avoided covering their faces.

Serbian infection experts said there was no way to ban traditional funeral prayers.

Patriarch Irinej fell ill after leading the funeral of a bishop who died of COVID-19

A man kisses the coffin of Patriarch Irinej during the funeral procession in St. Sava Temple
Mourners kissed the glass that covered the clergyman’s body in return for health advice

The 90-year-old clergyman died on Friday, three weeks after presiding over the funeral of the late Bishop Amfilohije COVID-19 in neighboring Montenegro, where people also kissed the body in an open coffin.

It is not known whether Patriarch Irinej contracted the virus there, but on this event he was indoors for hours among crowds, most of whom were not wearing masks.

The high profile deaths related to COVID have raised questions about whether some religious institutions are doing enough to combat its spread.

There are more and more reports of people contracting the virus after visiting services.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic pays his last respects
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was one of those who pay his respects

Orthodox believers attend the liturgy of the late Serbian Patriarch Irinej during his funeral service
Concern about people who become infected after attending church services is growing

Serbia, like other European countries, has seen an increase Coronavirus Cases in the past few weeks.

The government tightened restrictions, but authorities were reluctant to curb the church, which has around 12 million followers, mostly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia.

After recording thousands of new cases of infection daily in the country of seven million people, officials have warned the health system is at a breaking point and hospitals run out of beds.

Patriarch Irinej wielded considerable political influence in the region and was known for his criticism of Western politics in the Balkans and the close ties he developed with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Serbia’s top leadership attended his funeral, including President Aleksandar Vucic.

Patriach Irinej was later buried in the crypt in St. Sava Temple.

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