Patriarch Irinej, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, has died after contracting the coronavirus, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Friday.
Irinej, 90, a conservative who wielded major political influence, was diagnosed with the virus on November 4 and had been in a military hospital in the capital Belgrade since then.
He tested positive after attending the November 1 funeral of Metropolitan Amfilohije, the most senior cleric of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, who also died from COVID-19.
“I was honored to know you. People like you never depart,” Vucic wrote on his Instagram account under a black and white photo of Irinej.
The Patriarch‘s condition aggravated early on Thursday when he was intubated, his medical team said.
Irinej became the 45th Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2010. The church has around 12 million followers, mainly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia, and dioceses in the United States, Australia and Western Europe.
Irinej adamantly opposed the independence of Kosovo, Serbia’s former predominantly Albanian southern province, considered a medieval cradle of Serbian Orthodox Christianity and where some of church’s most important monasteries are based.
He said Serbia should join the European Union “if the EU respects Serbian identity, culture and religion.”
The election of the new Patriarch among bishops will take place in the coming months.
Coronavirus has so far infected more than 104,000 people and killed 1,110 in Serbia, a country of 7.2 million.