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  • The Rev'd Canon David Hyman

Ember Days - What's That?


If you’ve been in the process of ordination in our diocese, I will have pestered you to write ember letters. I could blame it on our good bishops but I won’t. It is a long standing tradition for ordinands to write ember letters to their bishop four times per year corresponding to the four sets of ember days which occur annually.

What’s this ember thing about, anyways? It’s old. Really old. Leo the Great (5th c) old. He encouraged setting aside the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at the beginning of each of the four seasons for fasting and prayer. He claimed the Apostles did it, so all Christians should do it. If you’re interested in the history Wikipedia has a good write up. You can also find dates for ember weeks in your prayer books.

Sadly, the observance of embertides has fallen into disuse except among those peculiar clergy-types, particularly those preparing for ministry. Case in point, two of the three collects for ember days in the 1979 BCP are prayers for those to be ordained and the discernment of those called to ministry. But originally, they were to be observed by all Christians. Their purpose was to provide quarterly opportunities for enhanced recollection and prayer, fasting and abstinence, service and almsgiving. The three days function like an extended interval workout, where the exercise is rigorous, so to build the spiritual muscles which equip the saint to live the life of faith.

My purpose in writing is to say that ember days are for all of us - lay and clergy alike. And this is an ember week. Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are the spring ember days. Consider setting some time aside to draw near to the Lord. Let’s open and receive the gift of this wonderful tradition.


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