Persistent Frontal Suture: A miracle exclusive to Orthodox Clergymen?

NOTE:  The frontal suture is a dense connective tissue structure that divides the two halves of the frontal bone of the skull in infants and children. It usually disappears by the age of six, with the two halves of the frontal bone being fused together. It is also called the metopic suture, although this term may also refer specifically to a persistent frontal suture. In some individuals the suture can persist (totally or partly) into adulthood, and in these cases it is referred to as a persistent metopic suture. The suture can either bisect the frontal bone and run from nasion to bregma or persist as a partial metopic suture (see image of frontal bone) (where part of the suture survives and is connected to either bregma or nasion) or as an isolated metopic fissure. Persistent frontal sutures are of no clinical significance, although they can be mistaken for cranial fractures. As persistent frontal sutures are visible in radiographs, they can be useful for the forensic identification of human skeletal remains. Persistent frontal sutures should not be confused with supranasal sutures (a small zig-zag shaped suture located at and/or immediately superior to the glabella).

 

Human Baby Skull, anterior view.
Human Baby Skull, anterior view.
Adult human skull, showing the metopique suture ( in red ), which usually is no longer visible after two years old. This skull an archeological artifact from Aisne (France)
Adult human skull, showing the metopique suture ( in red ), which usually is no longer visible after two years old. This skull an archaeological artifact from Aisne (France)

The “Miracle” Story

A persistent story told in the monasteries concerns a “great miracle that only exists in Orthodoxy:” all priests have a frontal suture on their skull that extends down to the top of their nose and in deacons this frontal suture only extends half way down. This is claimed to be a miracle because the adult human skull is not suppose to have a frontal suture. Fr. Germanos Pontikas, an Athonite monk from Filotheou Monastery who is the second-in-command at St. Nektarios Monastery in NY explains:

Fr. Germanos  of St. Nektarios Monastery, NY.
Fr. Germanos of St. Nektarios Monastery, NY.

“During the ordination of a deacon, this new frontal suture appears and extends halfway down the front of his skull. Later, when he is ordained a priest, it extends all the way to the top of his nasal cavity. The lines [i.e. sutures] now form a perfect cross on the skull of a priest. In disorganized charnal houses, priests can be identified by this frontal suture. Also, when the Church exhumes a body, this is one of the indicators they can use to determine if the person was ordained or not. One time, I had to leave the Holy Mountain and go to the doctor in Thessaloniki. I had mentioned this miracle to him and he replied, ‘Ah, that happens to one in a hundred thousand people all over the world, it’s not a miracle.’  I then asked him, ‘Well, how did those people all end up on Mount Athos and ordained priests?’”

Στο Οστεοφυλάκιον Κυριακού Σκήτης Αγίας Άννας
Hieromonk Panteleimon has a frontal suture, Hieromonk Gabriel does not (St. Anne’s Skete)

 

Only for the Orthodox?

Another monk who explains this miracle states, “After the Great Schism, this miracle ceased to occur in the Roman Catholic Church which is also another proof that they do not have the Grace of the Holy Spirit, nor the Grace of Ordination. The relics of Western saints who were ordained before the schism have this frontal suture, after the Schism, it is nowhere to be found.” However, many of the post-Schism charnel houses in western Europe contain skulls with a frontal suture–and just like the charnel houses on Mount Athos,  some are priests, some are not.

Painted skulls, found in the charnel house in Hallstatt, Austria. The back skull has a frontal suture.
Painted skulls, found in the charnel house in Hallstatt, Austria. The back skull has a frontal suture.

There is a grey area in the telling of this tale. Not everyone can agree on whether it is all ordained priests, just priest-monks, or only those ordained on Mount Athos. Pictures of charnel houses on Mount Athos do reveal various skulls with a frontal suture, though the skulls are not always marked to determine if it is in fact an ordained monk or not. Furthermore, this miracle is not mentioned by any of the Church Fathers, nor contemporary Elders and Saints. One cannot find it in any of the books written about Mount Athos in the last century. It has been transmitted here from Mount Athos via Geronda Ephraim’s monastics, but is virtually unknown in other parts of the Orthodox world.

Simonopetra Charnel House.
Simonopetra Charnel House.

Persistent Frontal Suture Well-Documented in the Medical World

Figure 1- Brazil Complete metopic suture (arrow). Figure 2 - Brazil Incomplete metopic suture (arrow).

The 2 skulls above are from Brazil. The skull on the left has a complete metopic suture (Orthodox priest?) and the skull on the right has an incomplete metopic suture (Orthodox deacon?)

This phenomenon, however, is documented in the medical world and is known as persistent frontal suture. Furthermore, in medical research journals, there are numerous photos of skulls from Africa, Brazil, India, Mongolia, Thailand, etc., with complete and incomplete persistent frontal suture. Furthermore, many of these skulls have the yellowish coloring that is also suppose to be a miracle only found in orthodoxy indicating holiness or sanctity.

Non-orthodox layman adult skull with Persistent Frontal Suture, forming a perfect  Cross.
Non-orthodox layman adult skull with Persistent Frontal Suture, forming a perfect Cross.

The problem with the “exclusive Orthodox Miracle”

Persistent Frontal Suture is found all over the world. Many times the skulls belonged to people who were non-Orthodox and even non-Christian. Furthermore, many female adult skulls also have PFS. As those who are non-Orthodox are obviously not ordained priests in the Orthodox Church and the Church forbids women to be ordained priests, Persistent Frontal Suture cannot be claimed as a miracle exclusive to clergymen ordained in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Showing pilgrims pictures of Athonite charnel houses containing skulls with PFS does not validate it as an exclusive orthodox miracle, nor does it prove Orthodoxy is the only truth. Telling pilgrims that scientists are baffled and cannot explain this “miracle”—when, in fact, prestigious medical journals around the world are filled with articles about Persistent Frontal Suture in adult skulls—is inaccurate and misleading.

cup 1a cup 1

A rare metopic Tibetan skull bowel. Kapala This rare example has the metopic suture. The lining is silver with a gold wash, and a beautiful matrix turquoise cabochon is mounted inside. Tibet, 19th century.

A) Superior view of the skull showing the metopism, B) Anteroposterior radiograph of the skull showing the complete metopic suture. (CS – coronal suture, SS – sagittal suture, LS – lambdoid suture, MS – metopic suture).
A) Superior view of the skull
showing the metopism,
B) Anteroposterior radiograph of the
skull showing the complete metopic
suture. (CS – coronal suture, SS –
sagittal suture, LS – lambdoid suture,
MS – metopic suture).

Metopic ''Deacon'' (India) Metopic ''Priest'' (India)

Adult skulls from India. The one on the left would be assumed an “orthodox deacon” and the one on the right would be assumed a “orthodox priest.”

REFERENCES:

• A note on the morphology of the metopic suture in the human skull http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15712147
• A rare case of persistent metopic suture in an elderly individual: Incidental autopsy finding with clinical implications (Karnataka, India) http://www.amhsjournal.org/article.asp?issn=2321-4848;year=2014;volume=2;issue=1;spage=61;epage=63;aulast=Vikram
• Autopsy Study of Metopic Suture Incidence in Human Skulls in Western Rajasthan http://www.scopemed.org/?mno=36125
• Imaging in Skull Fractures http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/343764-overview
• Incidence of metopic suture in adult South Indian skulls http://jbsr.pharmainfo.in/documents/vol2issue4/2010020402.pdf
• Incidence of metopic suture in skulls of Northeastern Thai adults http://www.med.cmu.ac.th/journal/fulltext/CMJ_2013_Vol%201-2_No-2_P%2011-16.pdf
• Median Frontal Sutures – Incidence, Morphology and Their Surgical, Radiological Importance http://www.turkishneurosurgery.org.tr/pdf/pdf_JTN_896.pdf
• Metopic suture http://radiopaedia.org/articles/metopic-suture
• Metopism in Adult Skulls from Southern Brazil http://www.scielo.cl/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0717-95022006000100012&lng=en&nrm=iso&a.
• Morphological study of Metopic suture in adult South Indian skulls http://www.academia.edu/6480507/Morphological_study_of_Metopic_suture_in_adult_South_Indian_skulls
• Occurrence of Metopism in Dry Crania of Adult Brazilians http://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2013/158341/
• Persistent Metopic Suture in Various Forms in South Indian Adult Skulls – A Study http://www.ijsrp.org/research-paper-0513/ijsrp-p1719.pdf
• Single Suture Craniosynostoses http://www.thecraniofacialcenter.org/synostoses_treatment.html
• Skulls http://freakmuseum.blogspot.ca/p/skulls.html
• STUDY OF METOPIC SUTURE IN THE ADULT HUMAN SKULLS OF NORTH INDIA http://medind.nic.in/jae/t10/i2/jaet10i2p232.pdf
• Tale of the Taung Child Collapses https://answersingenesis.org/human-evolution/hominids/tale-taung-child-collapses/

Fig 1

Persistent Frontal Suture in Northeastern Thai Adult
Persistent Frontal Suture in Northeastern Thai Adult
Arrow indicating a complete metopic suture. The metopic suture extends from the nasion (A) to the bregma (B).
Arrow indicating a complete metopic suture. The metopic suture extends from the nasion (A) to the bregma (B).

Persitent Full Metopic Suture

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