Head of Serbian Orthodox Church in hospital with coronavirus

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FILE – In this Jan. 6, 2019. file photo, Serbian Patriarch Irinej attends a ceremonial burning of dried oak branches, in front of church of St. Sava in Belgrade, Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox Church says Patriarch Irinej has been hospitalized after testing positive for the new coronavirus. 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. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, File)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church has been hospitalized after testing positive for the new 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 Wednesday that the 90-year-old Patriarch Irinej was hospitalized, but has no symptoms and is in “excellent general condition.”

Patriarch Irinej last Sundayled the prayers inside a packed churchfor the church head in Montenegro, Bishop Amfilohije, who had died after contracting COVID-19.

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

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

Montenegro and Serbia have seen a surge in virus infections in the past weeks, and Montenegro’s authorities warned that Bishop Amfilohije’s funeral created a major 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 Serbian church top cleric, Bishop Joanikije, the acting head of the church in Montenegro following Bishop Amfilohije’s death, also has tested positive for the virus, the church said 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.

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