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Serbia coronavirus: The Church losing its leaders to the pandemic
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Serbia coronavirus: The Church losing its leaders to the pandemic

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Few organisations have taken a bigger hit from the coronavirus pandemic than the Serbian
Orthodox Church.

 

Over the past two months, Covid-19 has deprived the religious institution of its top leadership in
both Serbia and Montenegro. But critics say the blows are self-inflicted, with traditional acts of
worship the likely cause of infection.

 

The chain of events is extraordinary:

  • Last month, the Church's senior bishop in Montenegro, Metropolitan Amfilohije, died after
    contracting coronavirus
  • Then, the Church's leader, Patriarch Irinej, tested positive for Covid-19 days after presiding
    at his colleague's funeral, and died
  • Last week, Bishop David of Krusevac, who conducted part of the service marking
    the Patriarch's death, confirmed that he had contracted coronavirus for the second time
  • Amfilohije's successor in Montenegro, Bishop Joanikije, has been unable to take up his
    duties due to his own struggle with the disease

Regardless of the decimation of its leadership, the Orthodox Church remains central to many
people's lives. And while schools in Serbia have mostly moved online because of the epidemic,
communion is still performed in person, often in breach of the ban on gatherings of more
than five people.

 

"In the majority of Orthodox churches, the Mass is being held continuously, although
the epidemic has decreased the number of worshippers," says religious affairs analyst Zeljko
Injac.

 

"The Church is highly respected in Serbian society; it is more respected than the country itself
or any other national institution.

 

"In the Balkans and Eastern Europe in general, state systems, political systems, ideologies
and regimes have changed too often - and society has not made much progress either
politically or economically. The only constant for people was the Church."

 

 

But there have been vocal critics of the Church's practices, particularly surrounding the two
recent high-profile funerals.



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