Saint forefather Abel is the second son of Adam and Eve.

According to Genesis, after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had two sons – Cain and Abel. Cain cultivated the land, while Abel was a shepherd of a flock (Genesis, 4: 2). In the course of time both brothers presented offerings to the Lord: Cain presented some of the land’s produce and Abel some of the firstborn of his flock. “The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering.” (Genesis 4: 4–5). Cain was furious but the Lord said to him: "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast? If you do right, won't you be accepted? But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4: 6–7). But Cain wouldn’t listen to the Lord. He offered his brother to go out to the field and killed him.

Christian tradition regards Abel as the righteous and the first martyr.

In Byzantine and medieval Russian art Abel’s image is encountered in illustrations to the Old Testament. Such compositions date back to the early Christian epoch; one of the earliest depictions of Abel was found on the wall painting of the Via Latina catacomb (the 6th century). The earliest depiction of Abel in Russian art is represented on a 12th century wall painting in a cathedral of the Mirozh Monastery. Over time Abel was portrayed as one of the Old Testament righteous (for example, on the 1378 wall painting in the Savior Church on Ilyin Street in Novgorod). Since the 16th century, icons depicting the Old Testament forefathers with scrolls in hands have been placed on a separate forefather tier of the iconostasis. In the forefathers’ row Abel is traditionally portrayed as a beardless youth, as for example, on the 1600 Saint Forefather Abel icon from the iconostasis at the St. Trinity Cathedral of the St. Sergius Trinity Lavra.

Abel is commemorated on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers and Fathers.

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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