Screengrab from a broadly shared video by Twitter person @DoturLui.

The Balkans reacted in outrage on the sight of 1000’s of individuals queuing to kiss the mortal stays of the Bishop Amfilohije Radović, the 82-year-old head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro who died of COVID-19-related causes on October 30.

Mourners got here, for essentially the most half maskless, to the bishop’s wake and funeral at Podgorica’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral by the 1000’s. Within the small, little-ventilated room the place his physique lied in an open casket, monks and nuns recited litanies for a number of hours all through the weekend of November 1.

Footage that circulated on social media confirmed that the ceremony disregarded the authorities’s security measures in opposition to COVID-19, together with the prohibition of huge gatherings, necessary mask-wearing in all public areas, and bodily distancing of a minimum of 2 meters.

Appeals by the medical group for clerics to a minimum of veil the physique with a closed casket had been additionally ignored. Most of the funeral’s attendants had been households with younger youngsters.

Montenegro, whose inhabitants hovers above 622,000, has registered over 20,851 COVID-19 instances in 2020, with 326 deaths.

This tweet features a video of the wake on October 30:

Inoculation of Serbs in Montenegro in opposition to the coronavirus. #EXCLUSVE …

Two high-ranking clerics who’ve attended the funeral have since examined optimistic for COVID-19: Patriarch Irinej, the pinnacle of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade, and Amfilohije’s inheritor obvious in Montenegro, Bishop Joanikije.

Amfilohije’s funeral is an instance of high-profile clerics persistently interfering with COVID-19 prevention measures within the area, particularly within the Western Balkans.

Amfilohije himself led a pilgrimage to Ostrog Monastery in Could with a whole bunch of worshippers regardless of a ban on all public gatherings in Montenegro. At the moment, the bishop stated that the pilgrimage may even “heal the virus that has conquered the world in the present day.”

In Serbia, the Episcope of Valjevo Milutin Knežević stated on March 15 that “if there’s religion, the physique and the blood of Christ can vanquish any illness” when referring to the Holy Communion, a Christian ritual during which, in some Orthodox traditions, worshippers drink consecrated wine from a shared spoon. He contracted COVID-19 and died two weeks after giving that assertion at age 71.

Regardless of the apparent dangers it poses, the Holy Communion continued to be practiced in church buildings throughout the Balkans throughout the spring, when COVID-19 was quickly spreading within the area. At the moment, many non secular leaders denied the ritual’s risks within the present circumstances, when not falsely flaunting its supposedly therapeutic powers.

On social media, customers have shared movies of Easter rituals that came about at the moment:

How the private distance and authorities recommendation has been revered.

In Belgrade’s Temple of Saint Sava, greater than 20 church staff examined optimistic for COVID-19 in April, together with the Episcope Stefan Šarić, who serves as a Vicar to the Patriarch.

Present official figures for COVID-19 in Serbia are 55.676 infections and 861 deaths.

In the meantime, in Greece, the place the Orthodox Church can also be very influential, a minimum of one priest was arrested for violating lockdown guidelines. Within the Western Balkans, nonetheless, a spiritual determine continues to be to face prosecution for comparable actions.

In international locations with sizable populations of various faiths, resembling North Macedonia, spiritual establishments have often pointed fingers at one another for violating prevention measures, at occasions utilizing the notion of a double customary as an excuse to ignore the principles as effectively.

Cartoon by Naum Jamovski, used with permission.

Cartoon by Naum Jamovski, used with permission.

For example, after a huge Orthodox Christian procession within the metropolis of Struga on Could 6, which obviously violated emergency rules in opposition to public gatherings and bodily distancing, the Islamic Group of Macedonia (IRC) held an pressing assembly deciding to reopen the mosques which had been closed since mid-March.

As the vacations related to Ramadan approached, the IRC chief, Efendi Sulejman Rexhepi, threatened to revoke help for the COVID-19 measures until the authorities supplied monetary aid to the group, which suffered from a lower in donations throughout the lockdown.

Macedonian Orthodox Christian Bishop Timotej — whose area, within the southwest, consists of the important thing spiritual heart of Ohrid — voiced an identical message as he lamented that the lockdown had additionally affected Easter celebrations, which generate, he says, half of the church’s annual revenue.

On the finish of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when Ramazan Bayram, or Eid al-Fitr, is historically celebrated with massive household gatherings, Rexhepi brought about a scandal when he declared, exterior of a packed mosque, that the virus was “lifeless,” and that the trustworthy had nothing to worry. The video beneath consists of footage of that second:

Ultimately of Could, the very best physique of the ICR dismissed Rexhepi from the place of chief with no official rationalization. Beforehand, Rexhepi has been repeatedly criticized for his statements and social media habits, as he often posted images carrying firearms and lifeless animals. Days earlier than he was dismissed from the ICR, native tabloids reported that he had not too long ago married a 24-year-old girl (he’s 74).

In 2019, Rexhepi spoke in an ethnic Albanian village that it was “unimaginable to cohabitate” with “these savage individuals with out an id,” supposedly referring to ethnic Macedonians. Regardless of the general public outcry, North Macedonia’s Prosecutor’s Workplace at the moment determined to not press expenses in opposition to him, on the grounds that he did not use the phrase “Macedonians.”