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Dealing With Betrayal

Fr. Bohdan Hladio

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Every one of us, at some point in our life, has probably felt or been betrayed.

Perhaps we had a friend who divulged a confidence. Perhaps someone knew of a personal weakness, and used this knowledge to embarrass us. Perhaps a person in a position of authority used their power to abuse rather than to help us. Perhaps, God forbid, our spouse was unfaithful, or our priest was really a "wolf in sheep's clothing".

Betrayal happens all around us - in the workplace, in politics, in sport, in families, in churches. Betrayal is one of those acts which, whether one believes in God or not, is universally held to be abhorrent.

One of the most devastating types of betrayal is related to sexual intimacy. For decades people have been preaching a "new morality". "Marriage is obsolete!", "If it feels good, do it!", and "A woman has a right to choose!" are slogans which have been echoing in the public ear for decades. The reason proposed for the deconstruction of traditional sexual morality usually goes something like this: "We live in more enlightened times. When Judeo-Christian morality was established life was different. We need a new morality, which reflects our greater enlightenment, and doesn't burden us with guilt."

After more than 40 years of misguided experimentation the statistical jury is beginning to express its verdict. It appears that the traditional Judeo-Christian one-man one-woman committed and monogamous relationship actually does work best for both spouses and children, with the levels of happiness, contentment, success in life, and the sexual fulfilment of spouses being greatest in such relationships. When it comes to the proper ordering of human familial relationships our grand-parents, great-grandparents, Church and Bible actually had it right all along.

On the other hand, it's not surprising that many people - especially people nurtured on a media diet of pre-marital sex and extra-marital affairs - engage in promiscuous sexual activity and then find themselves or their spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend feeling hurt and betrayed.

The attitude that relationships aren't sacred spills over into all other aspects of life as well. We often hear and read about people who betray trust for the sake of personal gain - perhaps a stock-broker or a politician betraying a public trust, or an acquaintance spreading malicious gossip.

It's not only people in secular life that are affected by betrayal. Betrayal, sad to say, is a familiar reality to anyone actively involved in Church life as well.

I know of examples of priests being betrayed by parish council members, or their bishops. Bishops are betrayed by their priests. Parishioners sometimes feel betrayed by clerical or lay leadership, and parish councils can feel betrayed by their hierarchs and pastors.

The list goes on and on. And lest anyone think this problem is confined to the Orthodox, think again. Every religious and non-religious group in the world is plagued by this same problem, as it's a result not of religious faith, but of the fallen human condition.

What is a believing Christian to do when feeling or experiencing betrayal? Simply put, to remember that s/he is in good company.

Christians are called to be Christ-like, but we sometimes conveniently forget that Christ Himself was betrayed. He didn't condemn, He didn't return evil for evil. He prayed for those who betrayed Him, that God might forgive them.

The Great Fast - Lent - is the time of forgiveness. If we've been betrayed, we must forgive. The prayer of Our Lord while being crucified - "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Lk. 23:34), the prayer of St. Stephen when he was being martyred - "Lord, do not charge them with this sin" (Acts 7:60), is the prayer we must offer for those who betray us.

Lent is also the time of repentance. If we have betrayed someone we must repent, try to make amends, ask God and our neighbour for forgiveness and humble ourselves, because if we don't we can have no expectation whatsoever of someday being exalted (cf. Lk. 18:14).

In the story of Joseph speaking to the brothers who betrayed him (appointed for the 6th Friday of Lent) we read: ". . . you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people. . ." (Gen. 50:20).

The wise person learns from their mistakes. Having been betrayed, one hopefully learns wisdom. Having betrayed someone should teach us the virtues of sorrow and humility. Betrayal is an inescapable part of our fallen human life. But with God's help mistakes - even great mistakes - can be corrected.

As we begin the Great Fast let us - the betrayed and the betrayers - strive to make these words of St. Nicolai Velmirovic our Lenten motto: "Never return evil for evil. Do not be vengeful; do not return evil for evil. The evil of your neighbour is sufficient. If you return him evil for evil, you double the amount of evil in the world. But if you do not return him evil, he may yet burn out his own evil through repentance, and you will then have lessened the evil in the world by your patience and forgiveness".

Fr. Bohdan Hladio is the Chancellor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada.

Posted: 19-Feb-06



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