Picture of smiling corpse

Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi was the Abbot of The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos, Greece. He died in 2009.

Several religious Christians claim that his corpse started to smile after his death, and claim this as a miracle.

  • The Beloved Son Blog:

    A Simple Biomedical Presentation of the First Miracle of Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi Who Smiled 45 Minutes After His Death

  • Mystagogy Resource Center

    In the case of Elder Joseph, upon death we know that his muscles relaxed and his mouth opened and he died in that position. Interestingly rigamortis set in quickly while his mouth was open. We know the monks tried to close his mouth for the funeral service but could not. Also, when rigamortis sets in, you cannot tie anything around the mouth to close it either; it must be tied while the muscles are still relaxed and releasing the oxygen. Postmortem movements where rigamortis sets in are impossible also. The amazing fact in all this is that the smile occurred 45 minutes after death while in a state of rigamortis. Also, mouths, like eyes, do not close on their own once opened after death though they can do the opposite.

  • Diakonima.gr

    Thus, they came back to the cell, to prepare the reposed according to the monastic. Elder Ephraim ordered them to leave his face uncovered. The fathers tried to close his mouth, but as it was quite late, his mouth remained open. They even tied a gauze around his head, so that his mouth would remain closed, but after they removed it his mouth opened up again. About 45 minutes had already gone, by since he had passed away.

Did the corpse of Joseph of Vatopedi start smiling after his death?

  • The title asks if he smiled at all. The final question seems to accept that he's smiling but asks why. There's also the possibility of mortician intervention. Try to find one claim that you can quote from somewhere else and build the question around it. – Brythan Apr 4 '17 at 15:32
  • I did not write something "miraculous" . Subsequently edited. – skeptic_spock Apr 4 '17 at 15:40
  • 6
    The earliest rigor mortis sets in in humans is 4 hrs post mortem. Also, who starts preparing a body for a funereal service 30 minutes after you find a person's corpse? Like, "Welp, he's dead, better get a nice suit on him, funereal's in three days"? All this described activity, the finding of th corpse, the rigor mortis, the preparation of the body for the funereal, trying to close his mouth, the attempt to bind his jaw with gauze .... all this was supposed to happen within 45 minute of the moment of his death? If they make up a story, they should have said "24 hrs", not "45 min". – Dan Bron Apr 8 '17 at 10:54
  • This is a tough one to answer, because the claim is so flimsy. The timelines don't make sense (as @DanBron points out). There was obviously people present. The photos haven't been reliably timestamped. There is no witness accounts - there doesn't seem to be any case to answer, let alone posit a miracle. – Oddthinking Apr 8 '17 at 13:34
  • Smiling is contextual, as well. What's the difference between a grimace, as mile, and just gritting the teeth? What the rest of the face is doing, and the reason for the facial expressions. So, calling that a "smile" is taking quite a bit of editorial liberty. – PoloHoleSet May 8 '17 at 20:42

First of all, a correction of one of the sources, Mystagogy. There was no rigor mortis of the elder's body. His mouth simply slagged open and they could not get it to remain closed without it being tied. Though it is not particularly well-written, the Diakonima account at the link is correct.

Also Elder Joseph was never the Abbot of Vatopaidi. He was the elder of the brotherhood that came to Vatopaidi to help re-man and rejuvenate it in 1987, but he never became the abbot. Abbot Ephraim was elected in 1990, when the monastery returned to the cenobitic way of life.

In Orthodox monasticism there is little fuss over the body of the reposed, particularly on Mount Athos (a quick image search using "Mount Athos funeral" will turn up many images). If a monk dies early in the morning, his body is generally buried that same day following the funeral service joined to the late afternoon vespers service. If he dies later in the day, the funeral generally takes place the next day following the morning liturgy. There would obviously be no embalming. The monk is simply sewn into his monastic garb, and his veil is turned to cover the face and it remains that way until the burial. In exceptional cases, at the end of the preparation, an opening is cut in the veil to reveal the face, as in the case of Elder Joseph.

After the monks doing the preparation were not able to get the mouth to stay closed by itself, they asked the abbot if they should keep it tied. He said no; they should just leave it as is. So they covered his face and sewed the garments together as usual. A half hour or so later when they cut the opening for the face, he had the smiling expression as seen in the photo (though there are better photos at the Diakonima site).

  • 1
    Can you provide links backing up any of your claims? – jwodder Apr 8 '17 at 18:41

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