Christopher Gray, 32, the vicar of St Margaret's Church in Anfield, Liverpool, a gifted scholar who had insisted on working in a tough urban parish, was discovered bleeding to death by neighbours, after they heard a cry.
Following the attack, a young mother of two in a house near the vicarage fought off a knife-wielding intruder who burst into her home. The intruder tried to abduct her before stealing her red Ford Escort car and fleeing.
Last night, 400 people crowded into St Margaret's Church in Anfield, Liverpool, to hear the communion service that the Rev Gray had been due to conduct. The Rt Rev David Sheppard, the Bishop of Liverpool, leading the service, said: "We are all shocked. We have lost an outstandingly gifted priest. You at St Margaret's have lost a deeply caring parish priest, pastor and friend. The loss of a treasured young priest is a tremendous blow to me personally and to all of us in the diocese and the wider church in Liverpool.
"A frightening and evil act seems to have destroyed so much that is good ... Yet in this service we focus on an event which was brought about by sheer evil. And the love and goodness of our Lord Jesus was not destroyed, we can know that God's love holds onto Christopher - and to us."
The bishop paid a glowing tribute to the priest whom he ordained four- and-a-half years ago, praising his "very special gifts of scholarship". As a student at Oxford University Mr Gray received a first, "with congratulations", in history. He was a talented linguist, musician and writer, but he was determined to face the challenges of a socially deprived area.
Mr Gray had returned shortly after midnight to his vicarage, in Tuebrook. At about 12.40am neighbours heard him speaking to another man whose voice became raised. They saw a man run from the scene near the church. He then went to a house, forced his way past the woman who opened the door, threatened her with a knife and took her car keys.
According to Chief Inspector Elmore Davies, leading the murder inquiry, the woman was so determined to protect her two young children that she found the strength to fight off the man when he attempted to abduct her.
The police revealed that the man they are seeking, named as Terence Storey, 31, had received advice from Mr Gray in recent weeks, since he was released from Walton Prison.
For the church the tragedy illustrates the growing risk facing clergy who have traditionally kept an open-door policy. The Bishop of Liverpool said the risk for vicars had become "part of the job" as Britain had grown more violent. He said: "We have been advising clergy not to make appointments with people when they are alone in the house, and we know Christopher was trying to make sure people were present.
"One or two of my colleagues ... have spoken to me in recent months about the difficulty of asking clergy and their families to move into particular parishes," he added. "But we are determined we will stay in every parish in the country. Chris was there very much by his own choice, he wanted to be there."