Geneva (ENI) — The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, Parthenios III, age 76, died of a heart attack on July 23 during a visit to Greece, a church spokesman said in Athens. The funeral was held July 30 at the cathedral church of St. Nicholas in Cairo, Egypt.

He was elected patriarch in February 1987 and was the 113th of the historical see of Alexandria. He was also one of the eight presidents of the World Council of Churches, based in Geneva.

Patriarch Parthenios III was "one of the most talented spiritual and scholarly personalities in the Eastern Orthodox Church", one commentator said a few years ago. "He has a rich theological knowledge in pan-Orthodox and ecumenical matters, and is considered to be one of the most open-minded and committed Orthodox church leaders who has dedicated all his life to promoting the goal of Christian unity among the churches around the world, helped in this by his profound ecclesial experience."

The noted ecumenist and theologian was born in Port Said, Egypt, to parents of Greek origin, and attended primary and secondary school in Egypt. He graduated from the Theological School of Halki, Istanbul, Turkey in 1939. He did his post-graduate theological studies at Oxford University and at the Sorbonne, Paris.

He took his monastic vows under the name of Parthenios in 1919, was ordained deacon and later priest. He was appointed chief secretary to the Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.

From 1953 to 1959, he served as president of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Patriarchal Library of Alexandria and became a permanent member of the Patriarchal publications.

In 1958 he was elected Metropolitan of Carthage in the diocese of Tripoli, Libya, and became a permanent member of the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria.

In 1968, he was elected member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, and became a WCC president in 1991.

The patriarch was the author of many theological essays published in numerous international reviews. Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, paid tribute to Patriarch Parthenios, whom he described as "one of the outstanding Orthodox leaders of the ecumenical movement."

The World Council of Churches has 330 member churches around the world including the world's principal Orthodox churches.

“As Metropolitan of the diocese of Tripoli, (Parthenios) served on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches from 1968 and became a trusted interpreter of the Orthodox voice in the life of the World Council,” Raiser said today in Geneva. “It was in recognition of his genuine ecumenical commitment and his profound spiritual wisdom that he was invited to present an address on the main theme of the World Council of Churches’ Assembly in Canberra in 1991, where he was subsequently elected as a President of the World Council of Churches.”

Konrad Raiser paid special tribute to the contribution of Patriarch Parthenios to “the growth of the African expression of Orthodoxy which has begun to widen and enrich the ecumenical movement in Africa.” This work, Raiser said, was a continuation of “the dedicated efforts of his predecessor, His Beatitude Nicolaos VI.”

“The passing away of His Beatitude Parthenios leaves a gap which cannot easily be filled.” Raiser said. “His distinctive voice of wisdom and ecumenical passion will continue to reverberate for a long time to come. The World Council gives thanks to God for the life and witness of this devoted servant of the Church. He has been a blessing for many, and the World Council of Churches will always honor his memory and the legacy he left.”