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also known as
The Antimension (Greek "instead of the table"; Slavonic: Antimíns) is one of the most important furnishings of the altar in many Eastern Christian liturgical traditions. It is a rectangular piece of cloth, either linen or silk, typically decorated with representations of the Descent of Christ from the Cross, the four Evangelists, and inscriptions related to the Passion. A small relic of a martyr is sewn into it.
It is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist without an antimension. The antimension is kept in the center of the Holy Table (altar) and is unfolded only during the Divine Liturgy, before the Anaphora. At the end of the Liturgy, the antimension is folded in thirds, and then in thirds again, so that when it is unfolded the creases form a cross (see picture, left). When folded, the antimension sits in the center of another slightly larger cloth, the eiliton (Slavonic: Ilitón)—similar to the western corporal, except it is usually red in color—which is then folded around it in the same manner (3 x 3), encasing it completely. A flattened natural sponge is also kept inside the antimension, which is used to collect any crumbs which might fall onto the Holy Table. When the antimension and eiliton are folded, the Gospel Book is laid on top of them.
The antimension must be consecrated and signed by a bishop. The antimension, together with the chrism remain the property of the bishop, and are the means by which a bishop indicates his permission for the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) to be celebrated in his absence. It is, in effect, the church's license to hold divine services. If a bishop were to withdraw his permission to serve the Mysteries, he would do so by taking the antimension and chrism back. Whenever a bishop visits a church or monastery under his jurisdiction, he will enter the altar (sanctuary) and inspect the antimension to be sure that it has been properly cared for, and that it is in fact the one that he issued.
Besides the bishop, no one is allowed to touch an antimension except a priest or deacon; and because it is a consecrated object, they should be vested when they do so—the deacon should be fully vested, and the priest should vest in at least epitrachelion (stole) and epimanikia (cuffs).
The antimension is a substitute altar. A priest may celebrate the Eucharist on the antimension even if there is no properly consecrated altar. In emergencies, war and persecution, the antimension thus serves a very important pastoral need. Formerly if the priest celebrated at a consecrated altar, the sacred elements were placed only on the eiliton. However, in current practice the priest always uses the antimension, even on a consecrated altar that has relics sealed in it.
At the Divine Liturgy, during the Ektenias (Litanies) that precede the Great Entrance, the eiliton is opened fully and the antimension is opened three-quarters of the way, leaving the top portion folded. Then, during the Ektenia of the Catechumens, when the deacon says, "That He (God) may reveal unto them (the catechumens) the Gospel of righteousness," the priest unfolds the last portion of the antimension, revealing the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. After the Entrance, the chalice and diskos are placed on the antimension and the Gifts (bread and wine) are consecrated. The antimension remains unfolded until after all have received Holy Communion and the chalice and diskos are taken back to the Prothesis (Table of Oblation). The deacon (or, if there is no deacon, the priest) must very carefully inspect the antimension to be sure there are no crumbs left on it, and then it is folded up, the eiliton is folded, and the Gospel Book placed on top of it.
Oriental Orthodox Practice
A wooden tablet, the ţablîtho, is the liturgical equivalent of the antimension in the churches of Syriac tradition. However, it is no longer used by the Antiochian Orthodox Church (which follows the liturgical practice of Constantinople, and thus uses the antimension) or the Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldean Catholic Church.
In the Ethiopian Tawahedo Church, the tâbot is functionally similar to the tablitho. However, this word is also used in the Ge'ez language to describe the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is symbolically represented by the manbara tâbôt ('throne of the Ark'), a casket that sits on the altar. The tabot itself, the wooden tablet, is taken out before the anaphora, and symbolizes the giving of the Ten Commandments.
- Antimension being opened on the Holy Table
- Consecration of an antimens during Consecration of a Church (Photos)
- Consecration of an antimens as a separate service (Photos)
- Antimens open on the altar the red eiliton is noticeable around the edges, and the sponge is in the upper right-hand corner
- Antimensium article in the Catholic Encyclopediabg:Антиминс