The holy forefather Reuben is the third son of Jacob.

According to Genesis, Isaac blessed his son Jacob to go to Mesopotamia and marry one of Lavan’s daughter, the brother of Rebecca and mother of Jacob. Lavan had two daughters: the eldest Leah had poor eyesight while the youngest Rachel was beautiful and slim. Jacob loved Rachel but Lavan cheated Jacob into marrying Leah and only after that gave to him Rachel in marriage. Leah gave birth six sons with Jacob, their firstborn was named Reuben (Genesis 29: 32).

Reuben is mentioned in the Old Testament several times. When his brothers, out of envy, decided to kill Joseph, whom Isaac loved more than his other sons, Reuben stopped them suggesting to throw Joseph into the cistern in the desert to rescue him later and take him back to his father. The brothers agreed with Reuben, but while he was away, they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him to a caravan of merchants. When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw Joseph was not there, he went into despair (Genesis 37: 21–30).

Though Reuben was firsborn, Jacob didn’t give him birthright as Reuben had had sex with his father’s concubine Bilhah. “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: 4Unstable as water, you shall not excel; because you went up to your father's bed”(Genesis 49: 3–4)

Reuben had four sons: Hanoch, and Phallu, and Hezron, and Carmi (Genesis 46: 9).

In Russian medieval art the forefather Reuben was portrayed as an old or middle-aged man among the Old Testament forefathers and prophets. Initially, such icons were encountered in monumental paintings in Orthodox churches, such as the St. Pherapontus Monastery by the master Dionysius (1502-03). 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. On the icons from a separate forefather row Reuben is traditionally depicted as an old man, for example, on a 1600 icon of Saint Forefather Reuben from the iconostasis at the Trinity Cathedral of the St. Sergius of Radonezh Lavra.

The holy forefather Reuben 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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