By Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev

VIENNA, DEC. 5, 2008 ( On Friday, Dec. 5, I was to call His Holiness Patriarch Alexy to discuss details of his visit to Austria scheduled for Dec. 20-23.

At 10 a.m. Moscow time I dialed his direct number, but instead of him a nun working in his residence answered the phone. She told me to call half an hour later. I called in half an hour, and the same voice said: "His Holiness died." And she cried.

There are no words to express my sadness at this unexpected death. It is a great loss.

On Nov. 30 His Holiness celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Munich. After the service he looked tired, but was, as usual, joyful and peaceful.

It so happened that during the last days of his life I spoke with His Holiness several times about the program of his visit. He was very eager to come to Vienna to re-consecrate the St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral after its restoration. We discussed every detail of his visit and even decided together which gifts and souvenirs he would bring to Vienna.

All of us knew that His Holiness had heart problems, but nobody could imagine that his death would be so sudden. He died full of energy and plans for the future.

In my memory Patriarch Alexy will remain first of all as a loving father, who was always ready to listen, who was supportive and gentle.

Almost half of the bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, including myself, were ordained into episcopate by Patriarch Alexy. We are all deeply indebted to him.

The years of his patriarchate constituted an entire epoch in the life of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was precisely in this time that the resurrection of the Russian Church took place, which continues to this day.

May his memory be eternal.

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Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Vienna and Austria, is representative of the Russian Orthodox Church to European Organizations.