I never expected that I’d end up as a baker or even a chef. I thought I’d be a priest or perhaps a monk in a monastery somewhere. But I always found myself around food and, on fast days, would often come up with really creative ideas for dishes (I was the cook, at the time, in a seminary and had some prior cooking experience at a vegetarian restaurant right after college, but I figured that was just a space filler till I became a pastor). Every assignment I had after that still found me playing with food—cheese, bread, barbecue sauce, soft drinks – I was fascinated by food. And then I got married and my wife was a great cook too so we opened a small restaurant and bakery as a mission outreach in the town where we lived. We called it our ministry even though we didn’t preach or subject our customers to overt religious evangelism. It was all very subtle; we felt that we were feeding their souls while feeding their bodies and, somehow, it all came together and the customers, from all backgrounds and faiths, got what we were trying to do and pretty soon we had big following. It was about then that we became Orthodox Christians but it was also about then that I realized my calling was not to be an ordained priest but rather, to serve others in a priestly way without their knowing it. Food became my form of subtle sacrament, and bread became my metaphor. I wrote a book about it and then another and, before long, we had sold the restaurant and bakery and I became a teacher of bread in culinary schools and also around the world. I have never stopped believing that God had ordained this ministry for me and my wife and that, in our own way, we were serving God’s will through a path that He had provided for us.
I read a book during the midst of this about finding your mission in life, written by an Episcopal priest, in which he outlined three aspects of any life mission: first, that every person shares a common mission with all humans to know God, our Creator, and to stand in His light and presence (I now understand this in he Orthodox context as the striving for theosis); second, that every person shares a common human mission to leave the world better than we found it by allowing God’s light to flow through us and manifest in various ways, essentially, and to serve others; and three, we each have a personal mission to find the work that brings both us and our Creator the greatest possible joy. I understand this now as synergia – our efforts meeting God’s love to create something uniquely our own, and that we can only call grace.
This explanation of finding one’s mission in life resonated deeply for me because it helped me to see that everyone, simply by being a human being created in the image and likeness of God, is ordained – but each in his or her own way, according to God’s will. Some may be formally ordained as priests, deacons, and clergy but everyone has a priestly dimension and the means to express it. Some spiritual writers have called this realization, “Surrendering yourself to Divine providence.” When I was able to surrender myself to the path I already found myself so happily on, I realized that it was the way that God had given me to participate in His creation and to know Him, and to express His energy as an individual. I discovered that I could give glory to God and find my own sense of mission and purpose and (and this is vitally important and too often overlooked by many “seekers” of God), to have a joyful, fulfilling life. Sometimes it’s about just seeing what’s right there in front of you.