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.
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.
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.