Saint forefather Abraham (whose birth name was Abram) is the forefather of many tribes, according to the Bible.

The Book of Genesis tells that Abram was a descendant of Noah’s son Shem. He lived with his family in the ancient town of Ur of Chaldeans (known today as Tell el-Muqayyar in Iraq). Abram had a wife named Sarai, who was “barren; she had no child” (Genesis 11:30). Abram’s father Terah decided to move to the land of Canaan with all of his family. “And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans” (Genesis 11: 31). But on the way to the destination, in the city of Harran (Haran in today’s Turkey) Terah died. And the Lord told Abram to continue his way: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12: 1–3).

After Abram took his family to the land of Canaan, the Lord appeared to him several times to confirm his promise. Though Sarai still had no children, Abram believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15: 6). Abram was ninety-nine years old when the Lord made a covenant with him: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations… As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her”. The Lord ruled that every male child be circumcised in the flesh of his foreskins as a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17).

The Lord appeared once again to Abraham and Sarah by the terebinth trees of Mamre as three strangers. When one of them said that Sarah would have a son, Sarah laughed within herself, saying she and Abraham had passed the age of childbearing. And the Lord said to Abraham: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). And Sarah did give birth to a son at the time appointed by the Lord.

After some time the Lord tested Abraham again: “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22: 2). And Abraham did what the Lord told him to. When Abraham stretched out his hand and took a knife to slay his son, the Lord called to him: “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22: 12). Abraham saw behind him a ram caught in a thicket by its horns and offered it instead of his son.

Abraham died at the age of one hundred and seventy five years, “an old man and full of years” (Genesis 25: 8).

In the Old Testament Abraham is exemplified as a man implicitly obeying the Lord’s commands. In the New Testaments, the promise the Lord had given to Abraham was spread onto all Christian believers. The Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians said “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3: 28–29).

In Byzantine and Russian medieval art the Abraham image is encountered in the scenes of Abraham’s Offering and Abraham’s Hospitality. The Old Testament Trinity. These compositions have been known since the early Christian times (the 2nd – 3rd century wall paintings in the Roman catacomb, reliefs of the 6th century sarcophaguses and mosaics in the Santa-Maria Maggiore Basilica, 432-440 AD). Over time Abraham was painted among Old Testament forefathers, for example, on the 1580s wall paintings at the St. Theodor Stratelates Church in Novgorod. Since the 16th century icons depicting the Old Testament forefathers with scrolls in hands have been placed in a separate forefathers’ tier of the iconostasis. Abraham is traditionally depicted on them as a gray-haired old man with a middle-sized V-shaped beard and long (less often short) hair dressed in a chiton and himation, with sandals on feet (see, for example, the 1600 icon of St. Forefather Abraham from the St. Trinity Cathedral in the St. Sergius Trinity Lavra.

Abraham is comemmorated on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers and Fathers on October 22nd (October 9th, the old style).

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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