Millions of Christians around the world observe Lent this time of year — the traditional 40-day period in preparation for Easter is usually marked by abstaining from certain indulgent foods and behaviors. Milwaukee’s world-famous fish frys owe in part to the Catholic practice of skipping meat during Lent.
An hour north of Milwaukee, there’s a monastery that goes back to those Catholic roots. The monks at Holy Resurrection Monastery follow ancient Eastern Orthodox fasting protocols, abstaining from all animal products, wine, and olive oil during four of the Christian calendar’s fasting periods. Lent is just one of them.
“It comes out to about half the year,” said Deacon Moses, a monk and chef at the monastery. “You’re supposed to be living a poor life, so that the money that we save from changing our diet can be given as alms to the poor.”
A life of poverty and meditation has always attracted Moses, but it wasn’t his first vocation. Before joining the monastery in his 30s, he earned a degree at one of the most prestigious cooking schools in the world, the Culinary Institute of America, and worked as a gourmet chef in New York City.
It wasn’t until a job on a yacht in the Greek isles that the monk, who was raised in the Western-rite Roman Catholic Church, really began to contemplate a life in an Eastern Christian monastery. Holy Resurrection Monastery belongs to the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church, which is almost identical to the Greek Orthodox churches he visited, except that it’s in union with the Pope of Rome, and therefore the rest of Wisconsin’s Catholics.
While veganism is being touted today for its dietary and environmental benefits, monks such as Deacon Moses have been restricting their diets for spiritual reasons since the first centuries. But for members of the public who are fasting, Moses says a person’s discipline is all their own.
“People who try to jump in and do it all at once often fail, and they get down on themselves and beat themselves up,” he said.
“Take it slowly ... break yourself in ... today in modern America, it’s definitely a foreign concept and it’s something that we need to learn.”
Teaching ancient spiritual practices is most of what Moses and the other monks do. One of the ways the monastery sustains itself is by hosting retreat groups for various faiths, in addition to pilgrimages and bake sales that reap the benefits of Moses’ fine cooking skills. They also have their own coffee line called "Humble Habits."
The monastery’s doors are also open for most public services, often followed by a meal prepared in part by the monk.
He also helped develop a web series on YouTube about how to cook like a monk called “Eastern Hospitality,” and a cookbook called Fasting and Feasting Throughout the Church Year is slated for publication next year. Below is a recipe from his cookbook.
Vegan broccoli rabe pasta dish:
- 2 bunches broccoli rabe
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-3 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cans cannellini beans or cooked dried beans
- 1 pound orecchiette pasta
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
Chop the broccoli rabe into 2-3 inch pieces. Blanch in a large pot of boiling well salted water, until bright green. Strain out the broccoli rabe but save the water to cook the pasta in. Cook pasta until it’s 3/4 done and drain, reserving 2-3 cups of the water.
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil, add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the breadcrumbs and toss until golden brown. Remove from the pan. Add the broccoli rabe and another 1/4 cup of the olive oil and toss well. Add the red pepper flakes and the pasta along with a cup or so of the reserved pasta water. Continue tossing and adding more water as it evaporates until the pasta is finished cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste and 1/2 of the reserved bread crumbs. Toss well.
Serve with the rest of the bread crumbs as a topping on the side.