Altar tour, continued - the antimension/ antimins (literally, “instead of the table”) is one of the most important items in the Altar, on the Holy Table because without one Holy Communion may not be celebrated. At St. Andrew’s ours is a rectangular pink piece of silk depicting the entombment of Christ on it, and signed by the Archbishop thereby conveying his authority for the priest to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. A small relic of a martyr is sewn into a pocket on the back; as ours is unmarked we have presumed it to be a relic of one of the New Martyrs of Russia. The antimins is folded into a cross, and then folded into a slightly larger square called the iliton, which gets folded around it similarly and then topped by the Gospel book. Folded inside the antimins is a small, flattened natural sponge used for wiping the crumbs from the priest’s fingers, as well as from the Diskos into the Chalice (“by Thy sacred Blood, O Lord, wash away the sins of those here commemorated”).
Only bishops, priests, and deacons may touch the antimins, and because it is a consecrated object, they must be vested when they do so. Because it can serve in place of a table, this allows the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated nearly anywhere - from home chapels to hospital rooms, beds of trucks to hoods of cars. You’ll see it during the Divine Liturgy, right before the Great Entrance as the ektenias are chanted, the iliton is fully opened and the bottom ⅔ of the antimins is opened; then during the Litany of Catechumens, when we pray that God will “reveal unto them the Gospel of Righteousness,” it’s opened all the way to receive the Chalice and Diskos. After Holy Communion it is inspected closely for crumbs, folded back up and the Gospel placed upon it again.