Serbian Orthodox Church patriarch, 90, hospitalised with COVID-19

Patriarch Irinej recently led prayers for a bishop who died after contracting the novel coronavirus in a service where many kissed the body.

Patriarch Irinej last Sunday led the prayers at the big public funeral for the church head in Montenegro, Bishop Amfilohije, who had died after contracting the virus [File: Darko Vojinovic/AP]

The 90-year-old patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church has been hospitalised after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, days after leading prayers at a large public funeral for the head of the church in Montenegro, who died after contracting the virus.

The Serbian Orthodox Church said late on Wednesday Patriarch Irinej was hospitalised but had no COVID-19 symptoms and was in “excellent general condition”.

Serbia’s defence ministry on Thursday said the patriarch was admitted to a military hospital in Belgrade where he could be under “medical supervision and control”. The ministry said he was in good condition and did not have a fever or other signs of illness.

On Sunday, Patriarch Irinej led the prayers inside a packed church for the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Bishop Amfilohije, who had died after contracting COVID-19.

Many of the people inside the Montenegrin church did not wear protective face masks or keep their distance from one other, in violation of coronavirus-fighting restrictions. Many kissed the bishop’s body in an open coffin.

Among those in the church were Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Montenegrin Prime Minister-designate Zdravko Krivokapic.

Montenegro and Serbia have seen a surge in coronavirus infections in the past weeks. Montenegro authorities warned Bishop Amfilohije’s funeral created a considerable health threat.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is also the main church in Montenegro, a fellow Slavic and Orthodox Christian nation. About one-third of Montenegro’s 620,000 people identify as Serbs.

Another top cleric in Montenegro, Bishop Joanikije, the acting head of the church following Bishop Amfilohije’s death, also tested positive for the virus, the church said on Wednesday.

Bishop Amfilohije was highly popular among pro-Serb Montenegrins who advocate closer ties with Serbia following Montenegro’s split from a joint state in 2006.

Source: AP