ANTIMENSION, a consecrated linen or silk cloth used on an altar during the celebration of the Eucharist; it is decorated with biblical texts and artistic representations of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
In the Coptic church, however, instead of the antimension, a portable ALTAR-BOARD or altar-slab is used, called pinax in Coptic, usually of copper, brass, or wood, but sometimes made of stone or marble. A large cross is engraved in its middle and four smaller crosses in the corners, with Coptic inscriptions of the name of Jesus Christ and some verses from the Psalms (e.g., Ps. 86:1-3).
Special prayers are used in consecrating it, and then it is anointed with the holy chrism. It is placed on top of the ALTAR in a special area that fits its size, which is not standard, but large enough to fit the chalice and the paten (see EUCHARISTIC VESSELS). In thickness it measures usually between about ¾ and 2 inches (2 and 5 cm). It is used for the celebration of the liturgy where there are no proper altars, or where the altar has not been consecrated.
A. J. Butler relates an incident of relevant interest: "When Zacharias, king of Nubia, about 850 A.D. sent his son and heir George to Egypt . . . he was granted as a very great privilege by the Patriarch [YUSAB I] a portable altar of wood to carry to his father. Tradition says that such a thing was never known before . . ."
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