If we look at the altar table in the sanctuary from the nave with the Royal Doors open, what do we see? There are candles, of course. We will see the tabernacle, shaped like a small church, in which the reserved sacrament, meaning the consecrated body of Christ, is kept for the communion of the sick and infirm. One can also see the chalice, the cup from which Holy Communion is given. If we look carefully one can also see the discos, a round, metal plate on a stand, on which the consecrated Body of Christ is kept before it’s put into the Chalice for Communion. And, of course, there is the spoon with which Holy Communion is given.
None of this surprises us. But there is one thing on the altar table whch we cannot see from the nave which is necessary to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. This s the antimension, or antimins. This is a cloth with a picture of Christ lying in the tomb. On it is also the bishop’s signature. This is to show that each individual parish is not an isolated entity but is in communion with and under the authority of the bishop. Antimension literally means “instead of the table”. In other words, instead of celebrating the Liturgy on the altar table of the bishop we are celebrating on the table of the parish.
What is important to realize is that there is a relic of a saint, often a martyr sewn into the antimension. At our Church of Our Lady of Kazan, there is a relic of Hieromartyr Hilarion Troitskii, a bishop killed by the Communists during the Russian Revolution. There is also a relic in the altar table itself.
The presence of these relics takes us back to the very early days of the Church, bbefore Christians had actual church buildings. The Divine Liturgy was celebrated on the toms of the martyrs. This shows that the Church is built on the blood of the martyrs. An early church writer wrote “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
For Orthodox and Catholics and some Anglicans, the veneration of relics [not worship since worship is given to God alone] is an important part of church life. A relic can be the entire body of a saint or a part of the body. It can also be something the saint wore or used.
The veneration of relics goes back to the earliest days of the Church as noted above. But some Christians, mostly protestant, say this is idolatry, something forbidden by the Bible.
But there is a fundamental mistake here. Human beings are not simply spirits stuck in the body which goes to live in heaven with God after death. This is a pagan view. Rather we are union of body and soul, and Christ came to raise the entire human person, body and soul, into heaven. The veneration of the relics of the saints reminds us that our bodies, too, will be raised by Christ at the end of time when He comes again.