People crowded the streets of Belgrade on Sunday at the funeral of Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej, who died after testing positive for COVID-19.
Mourners were seen kissing the glass shield covering the patriarch's remains, despite warnings from Serbia's epidemiologists as well as church leaders ahead of the funeral on Sunday.
Both the 90-year-old spiritual leader and his number two have died of the virus in Serbia, whose population of 7 million people overwhelmingly belong to the Orthodox Church.
Many mourners and most priests holding the funeral service in the St. Sava Temple in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, didn't wear masks or adhere to social distancing inside the church.
Irinej died on Friday, three weeks after attending the funeral of another cleric who also died from COVID-19 complications in neighboring Montenegro. There, mourners were reported to have kissed the leader's remains lying in an open casket.
Serbian authorities have warned that hospitals are running out of beds. The small nation has seen over 116,000 cases of COVID-19, with over 1,100 deaths.
Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic attended Sunday's funeral, where he praised Irinej's efforts to complete the construction of the St. Sava Temple, the biggest Orthodox church in the Balkans.
"I'm ready to say, if it wasn't for Irinej, it would have taken several more decades to complete this temple,'' Vucic said.
Patriarch Irinej wielded considerable political influence in the Balkan country and was known for his criticism of Western policies in the Balkans and close ties he developed with the Russian Orthodox Church.
bk/aw (AP, AFP)