President Cyril Ramaphosa was during the final struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s inside the country with Tutu drawing the wrath of the then-government and spoke at Cape Town's St George's Cathedral, where an Anglican requiem mass was held on 1 January.
Tutu died on 26 December at the age of 90, and tribute was paid to Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, known for his perennial infectious laugh and humour against adversity.
His widow Leah Tutu, his children and grandchildren, were also at the funeral.
It was a small service in the cathedral where Tutu and others confronted the apartheid police during the old era. It was conducted in the three primary languages spoken in Cape Town, isiXhosa, English, and Afrikaans, three of South Africa's 11 official languages.
Singing the hymns at the service were Imilonji kantu Choral Society, the Soweto Gospel Choir, St Georges Parktown Choir and a recording from the St George's Cathedral Choir.
"It is only the few among us, the rarest of souls, who attain the stature of global icon during their lifetime," said Ramaphosa. "Our departed father was a crusader in the struggle for freedom, for justice, for equality and peace, not just in South Africa, the country of his birth, but around the world as well."
Ramaphosa recounted how Tutu, who had spoken after being arrested in 1988 during a clergy-led protest against a crackdown on anti-apartheid groups, had with his Bible in hand told a news conference he would continue with his defiance.
“ ‘We are not defying the law,' he declared, 'we are obeying God,’ " said the president, quoting Tutu.
Such was Tutu's overarching impact and influence, said Ramaphosa, that tributes had been received from current and past presidents, religious leaders, monarchs, lawmakers, political parties, musicians and artists, and ordinary people from all corners of the globe.
Among them were King Letsie III and the consort Queen Masenate Mohato Seeiso of the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, surrounded by South Africa where Tutu served a spell as bishop along with Dutch princess, Mabel van Oranje.
'Humble and brave'
"A humble and brave human being who spoke up for the oppressed, the downtrodden and the suffering," said Ramaphosa.
The current Archbishop of Cape Town, Rev. Dr Thabo Makgoba, presided over the service, and the preacher was Rev. Michael Nuttall, retired Bishop of Natal, who worked alongside Tutu when he headed the Anglican church of southern Africa.
The guard of honour for Tutu was not a military, but clergy and church wardens, who lined Cape Town's inner streets as a guard of honour to pay their respects to the late Tutu as his cortege arrived at the cathedral for him to lie in state in the days before the funeral.
Bishop Nuttal praised Leah Tutu who was so close to her husband and preached of Tutu’s authenticity.
"That is why we loved him and respected him and valued him so deeply. Small in physical stature, he was a giant among us morally and spiritually. His faith was authentic, not counterfeit or half-hearted," said Nuttal.
"He lived it, even at great cost to himself, with an inclusive, all-embracing love. His friend, Nelson Mandela, put it perfectly when he said: 'Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu's voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.’ "
Tutu worked for the World Council of Churches in Geneva from 1972-1975. WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri represented the council at the service in St George’s Cathedral where Tutu’s remains will be buried. WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca sent a message to the family on behalf of the WCC.
The message said, "In Desmond Tutu, we all experienced a man of many gifts and accomplishments, as an educator and churchman, a leader in the liberation struggle here and abroad and in the quest for reconciliation, as a husband and father and friend. But here, in this house of God, I would lift up one indispensable passion in all he did, namely, his lifelong faith. Desmond Tutu was, first and last, a man of God.
"Yet his faith was not a solipsistic search for certainty, security or a therapeutic comfort. It was rather a confidence in God's loving presence and activity among us, God's fulsome affirmation of our being human, and the fire for justice by which God energizes prophetic action," reads the message. "Desmond Tutu's faith was, in the broadest and best sense, ecumenical, driving to overcome division in a zealous quest for God's reign."