4th Week of Great Lent – Wednesday Matins
Standing by the cross of the child whom she bore without seed, the Virgin Mother cried aloud: “O my son, a sword has pierced my heart, and I cannot bear to see Thee hanging upon the wood. Before Thee all tings tremble, for Thou art their Creator and their God. Glory be to Thee, O longsuffering Lord. (Matins Stavrotheotokion, Tone 6, after the second reading from the Psalter, Lenten Triodion, Tuesday in the 4th week of Great Lent)
The “Stavrotheotokion” is a hymn about the cross and the Theotokos (“Stavros” = Greek for Cross). Many of them are found in the services for Wednesday and Friday. They generally focus on the experiences and suffering of the Theotokos when her son was on the cross, and are a rich source of theology about the cross and the incarnation. Basically all the hymns about the Theotokos are about the incarnation. The Stavrotheotokion in particular is particularly poetic, and often presented as a dialogue between the Mother of God and her son.
Much that we know was not expressed in the Scripture, but is a closely guarded treasure held by the church, and well known to her. The Mother of God lived in the home of St John the Theologian for many years in obedience to the command of her son , and was well known to the Apostles, and she transmitted much of her considerable wisdom to them over the years.
Those who do not venerate the Theotokos, considering her to be merely a good Jewish married woman, cannot understand the reverence the Orthodox hold for her. I personally believe that she is not well understood in our time because ours is an age of carnality and noise. The purpose of the Christian life is not well understood, nor its ascetical life, nor its wholehearted pursuit of holiness. The quintessential example of holiness among mortal human beings is the Theotokos, and her holiness, obedience and sacrifice can only be understood by those who have lived a full life of sacrifice, obedience to the commandments, and have in so doing, become holy.
The Stavrotheokion usually describes the condition of holiness by the way it poetically expresses theology. We should emulate its “spirit” as much as we should believe and live according to the theology it expresses. We cannot understand this particular hymn or most other hymns about the Theotokos unless we enter into their spirit – they are describing the ruminations of someone who, of her own free will and out of submission to God, has become holy. We are seeing a “picture” of holiness.
This particular hymn discusses the fulfillment of a prophesy. We all know of many Old Testament prophesies concerning Jesus Christ, such as: He would be born of a virgin and in Bethlehem, His coming would be heralded by a star, He would hang on the cross between two malefactors and many others , but there are also many New Testament prophesies concerning Him, some of which were fulfilled in His earthly lifetime, and others which were fulfilled after His resurrection or will be in due time.
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (35) (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34-35)
The Christian life consists of emulation. The Lord commanded us to “follow me!” , and the Apostle Paul was well aware that a large part of his ministry was to be an example for the people to follow , and even explicitly told them to follow his example. We learn to be holy by observing holiness in the Lord and His “good and faithful”  servants and attempting to emulate it.
Our hymns focus a great deal on the disposition of the Theotokos, often as a poetic dialogue with her son, precisely because this demonstrates an aspect of holiness that we must emulate.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2010. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. (26) When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! (27) Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:25-27 KJV )
 Isaiah 7:14, Septuagint Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Emmanuel
Micah 5:2 KJV But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
Numbers 24:15-17 Brenton Septuagint And he took up his parable and said, Balaam the son of Beor says, the man who sees truly says, (16) hearing the oracles of God, receiving knowledge from the Most High, and having seen a vision of God in sleep; his eyes were opened. (17) I will point to him, but not now; I bless him, but he draws not near: a star shall rise out of Jacob, a man shall spring out of Israel; and shall crush the princes of Moab, and shall spoil all the sons of Seth.
Isaiah 53:12 KJV Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
 Mathew 16:24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
Matthew 19:21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
And other examples.
 2Thessalonian 3:7-9 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; (8) Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: (9) Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
 From the parable of the talents: “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew 25:21)