The holy forefather Melchizedek was the king of Salem and priest of God the Most High (Genesis 14: 18).
According to Genesis, Abram learned that his nephew had been taken prisoner. He armed his slaves, attacked the enemies at night, defeated and pursued them into Hobah, which was on the left side of Damascus. Abram liberated Lot and brought him back all the goods, the women and the people. When Abram was going back, Melchizedek king of Salem and the priest of God the Most High went out to meet him with bread and wine saying “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God the Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.” (Genesis, 14: 19–20). Abram gave to Melchizedek “a tenth of all.” (Genesis, 14: 20). In the Epistle to the Hebrews this episode is interpreted as follows: “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God Most High, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham divided a tenth part of all (being first, by interpretation, King of righteousness, and then also King of Salem, which is King of peace; without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God), abideth a priest continually.” (Hebrews, 7: 1–3).
The forefather Melchizedek is portrayed as an old gray-haired, long-bearded old man wearing clerical clothing and boots; sometimes he is shown holding a vase filled with breads.
One of the earliest depictions of Melchizedek is located in the mosaics of the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna (the mid-6th century). In Russian medieval art the forefather Melchizedek was portrayed among the Old Testament forefathers and fathers. Such depictions had been originally encountered in temple mural paintings, such as those at the Church of the Savior on Ilyin street (1378). Since the 16th century the icons depicting the Old Testament forefathers with scrolls in hands have been placed in a separate forefather row of the iconostasis, as for example, on a 1600 icon of St. Melchizedek from the iconostasis at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius and from the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.
The holy forefather Melchizedek is commemorated on the Sunday of the 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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