I know a surprisingly large amount of people who actually think Fedor is God, which is a belief we know makes Fedor uncomfortable enough to drown his sorrows in vodka and ice cream on the same Stary evening (see what I did there? Stary? Nevermind). He’s retired, he doesn’t need to watch his waistline any longer, if it God’s will for Fedor to be falsely idolized then that is the conundrum of a cross he has to bear.
Fedor’s religion has increasingly become a part of his public persona, and for the first time that I know of at least, he truly opens up on his retirement and the role the almighty lord plays in his life as an athlete.
Here’s an interview from Russian website pravmir.ru dealing mostly with the religion of Fedor. It was published three days ago, so we turned it over to MiddleEasy reader extraordinaire and Russian Ted Malakhov for a rough translation. Here is what Malakhov came up with:
In a lot of interviews you say you don’t feel aggression towards your opponent.
I don’t think a faithful person can feel any other way. And not just a fighter. You can hit a birdie with a racket as though the person on the other side of the net is your personal enemy.
But there is the term “sport anger”. Is it usually considered useful, does it help?
I don’t agree with that at all. “Sport anger” is some made up term- what’s it about? Patience, self-control, developing your abilities- that exists. When you think you can’t do any more, take control of yourself, swallow your emotions, and move forward. Why is anger necessary? It’s in the way. It clouds the mind, a person cannot evaluate a situation soberly, cannot react correctly. Sometimes you need to be careful, but the person does not notice anything. There’s a feeling of revenge, to rush forward, to hit harder- but that doesn’t lead to anything good. In my mind that doesn’t apply just to sport, but also to generally relationships between people.
You’re one of the most accomplished athletes, a world champion in MMA. How does that interact with the evangelic call to be last, to be a servant to all?
If the Lord put me here to do this, that means I have to do it as well as possible. If I was a welder, I would weld at the highest level. In sports, the biggest success is victory. Victory is important in and of itself, it’s evidence you finished your job. Us Orthodox Christians are judged by our deeds. We have to do everything for the glory of God. We can’t do something for the glory of God with our sleeves down.
But don’t big fights carry the possibility of becoming prideful?
They do. It’s not a coincidence that many priests are speaking critically about big sports. Because of that, many athletes do sports and win just to satisfy their own wants and ambitions. Of course, the temptation to be prideful of your victories is with everyone, including me. I try and not let it get to me with all my strength. There is only one way to fight it: dedicate each victory to God and your country.
Lately I’ve been thinking about it a lot and would like to turn to my colleagues, out of whom; many in fact do serve their country in sports, not their ambitions. The youth pays attention to athletes. I remember myself as a teenager: I followed our athletes compete on TV very closely. I didn’t hear one person say “Thank God” or in any way talk about God. They, usually, talked only about themselves, of their accomplishments and defeats. The personal “I” stood above everything else. I think that if even one of them once said “I’m grateful to God for my victory”, many boys, their fans, including me, would start thinking about something. Young people would think differently, they would turn to God.
Do you think it’s strange to hear about God from an athlete?
I think not. Young people that take sports seriously, have an easier path to God. In both faith and sports, instillment of values is important. In sports, your coach educates you, you have to trust him. After that it is easier to trust a priest as a spiritual teacher. Doing sports teaches people to live in a collective, to treat each other with respect in difficult situations. You need to deny yourself a lot of things. When your peers are running outside to have all the fun in life or sit in front of a computer for hours, you’re training where you’re being pushed to your limit. Then you go home and still have to do homework. Kids in sports know what a small accomplishment is from a small age.
In one interview you told young athletes that even if their opponent is physically stronger, you can win using the “Orthodox spirit”. How does that look in practice?
In some fights you feel as though your opponent trained better, but in any competition there is also a spiritual side. It’s unlikely that it’s possible to describe in words to a nonbeliever. But I personally know that when you believe in God, it doesn’t matter who’s in front of you- bigger or smaller, stronger or weaker. A person with faith goes out to win.
I can imagine young people, who push themselves in practice, are told about victory through “Orthodox spirit”. Wouldn’t they think it’s crazy?
I would think so if I hadn’t experienced it myself. They would maybe feel that I’m lying and would think it’s crazy. But I’m talking about something I know about. Something people can’t see, they experience it subconsciously. And if a person speaks truthfully, from his heart, then people who listen to him don’t doubt him. Even if the details aren’t fully understood, it doesn’t matter, There is a famous phrase: to be faithful, sometimes you just have to look into the eyes of another faithful person. This is about that.
The media likes to point out you fight for “Red Devil Fighting Team”, a little strange for an Orthodox believer…
That is not true. I have always only fought for the Saint Alexander Nevski Club from Stary Oskol in the Belgorod region. Journalists stubbornly like to pin me to “Red Devil Fighting Team”, probably because they invited me to fight for them. However one of the reasons I could not was because of their name. We discussed it a lot with the head of the club; I insisted that the name be changed. At first they didn’t understand me; they said the public was used to the name. But in the end I managed to convince them. And now the club in St. Petersburg is called the same as mine in Stary Oskol- Saint Alexander Nevski. Seems like it’s just a name, but the club really changed in its atmosphere and principles.
Does such a radical change embarrass you? Turns out it’s easy- just make a club in honor of a red devil to honor an Orthodox saint? As though nothing happened and there is no difference between them, just change the name…
I can only speak for myself: I don’t see any contradiction. Yes, it’s a radical change. But that’s how things should change in life when a person takes up faith: you’re turned 180 degrees, either you’re with Christ, or you’re not. It’s a radical choice. You’re leaving your past, can’t do it any other way. Remember the words of the saint knyaz Vladimir about his christening: “I was an animal, and became a human.”? That’s about me too. My life before faith was far from ideal. Yes, my parents raised me to be kind, to live by moral law, but that’s not enough – a person still strays to the side. You relax one time, another, a third- and that’s how it starts. I got out of that because of my visit to the Serafimo-Direevski monastery.
What happened there?
I was competing in a tournament in Nizhni Novgorod, and was invited to tour the monastery. On the way, I had a warm conversation with father Andrey Zheleznyakov- the protodeakon from the region’s diocese. He didn’t force me into anything, he just talked.
The tour made a very special impression on me. A nun was telling me how saint ascetics carried out their feats there/ All of a sudden those stories of saints came alive to be. Then I turned to father Serafim- after that all my questions faded away. What did I feel? I don’t know how to describe it in words. I just felt that God exists and that I live every second of my life before him.
You finished your career so you must have free time. Do you devote your free time delve deeper into faith?
I don’t agree with you here. You can’t one day be an athlete and another day be a Christian. You can’t put off faith in God until later, otherwise it’s not faith. Life is in Christ first and foremost, everything else comes second. People sometimes ask me how I manage to combine faith and life. But you can’t “combine” them because they are not separate. You can only live faith. Our faith and our deeds establish what Orthodox Christians are.
There are some scandals around The Church. Do they worry you?
You know, that question doesn’t even exist to me. i just know that our faith is the true faith and is embodied in the Russian Orthodox Church. I’m not a person to judge someone or be disappointed by scandals. I am a part of the Church as it is. If someone does something that, in my mind, is wrong, we need to pray for him. Today, a lot of people are judging priests. I think that’s wrong. Matthew talks about that: “Those who accept the prophet as he is, receive the prophet’s gift.” When a person steps into a church to point out that the father is doing this or that, why? It says a lot about the critics. That means they don’t look within themselves, don’t battle their own passions, but take up finding what’s wrong with other people. But the Russian Orthodox Church is all of us- the faithful. It’s strange when you, an Orthodox Christian, but then look at the Church “from the side”. No, you are a part of the Church. And everything that affects it, you take up onto yourself.
But a person can separate themselves…
The media talk a lot about The Patriarch, both good and bad. But to me, he is out of bounds. He is closer to God than all of us. People who discuss hierarchy, in my eyes, just forget that everything is in God’s hands. Not even in the hands of the patriarch. He tries to teach us faith. Everyone reacts differently. Those who don’t want to fight their sins get angry and argue. But that is normal. Even Christ, when he walked the earth, was not accepted by everyone.
You’ve only had three losses in your whole career, all of them in a row. Does faith help in those situations?
I can’t say “Faith helps when you lose”. Are there really situations where faith isn’t supposed to help? No. I can’t divide my actions as “With God” or “Without God”. If I am faithful, faith is always with me.
But nevertheless. When a believer has bad luck, he can tell himself: “God’s will is for everything, that means that this is necessary’. A nonbeliever looks on and says: “This is all silly self-justification. Nothing is just sent to us, you just did this or that wrong”…
Yes, this is familiar to me. I was in that situation many times. But I’m sure that you need to thank god for losses as well as victories. For tough situations, for losses. St. John Zlatoust spent the last years of his lif in pain and yet his last words were “Think God for everything”. I was shocked by the film about the prisoners of Solovetski camp- saintly people experienced such pain there that it’s hard to imagine, but still praised God. It’s not some loss in a match, this is half your life, long years, cold, hunger, and often painful death. After that they still thanked God. We need to do that too! We aren’t any different. It’s just easier for us. Our “experience” is nothing compared to theirs. I know that I feel sadness that God sometimes acts in our life when things aren’t good too, rather, when we think everything is bad. But really… All these fights, matches, wins, losses- it’s all nothing compared to God right next to you.
Nothing?! But viewers think that fighting is our life.
That’s not so. If fighting was my life, I would not have finished my career. I’m getting offers, one better than the next. But that’s all vanity. There is only life in Christ. There is family- Church, which is much better than sport. No fights can compare to that.