The saint forefather Benjamin is the junior son of Jacob and Rachel.

According to Genesis, Rachel had a difficult delivery. As she was dying she named her son Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow.” But Jacob changed his name to Benjamin which means “son of my joy” (Genesis 35: 18)

Benjamin was a maternal stepbrother of Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous elder brothers. But Joseph, for his ability to interpret dreams, was promoted by Pharaoh and put in charge of all the land of Egypt. When famine struck the land of Canaan, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph, not recognized by his brothers, demanded that they brought to him Benjamin. Jacob didn’t want to part with his youngest son but famine forced him to let Benjamin go to Egypt. When Joseph saw Benjamin, he was so overcome with emotion that he enslaved him under false pretences. But brother’s sorrow was so great that Joseph had to reveal to them his true identity. “And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck” (Genesis 45: 14). “To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver, and five changes of raiment.” (Genesis 45: 22).

In Russian medieval art Benjamin is depicted as a young man among the Old Testament forefathers and prophets. Such depictions were initially encountered in monumental paintings of Russian churches, for example, in the Assumption of the Theotokos Cathedral in the St. Therapont Monastery (Dionysius, 1502–1503). Since the 16th century, the icons depicting the Old Testament forefathers with scrolls in hands have been placed on a separate forefathers tier of the iconostasis, as for example, on the 1600 icon of St. Forefather Benjamin from the iconostasis at the St. Trinity Cathedral of the St. Sergius Trinity Lavra.

Saint Benjamin 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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