Jesus - The Firstfruit
Fr. Thomas Hopko · May 20, 2010
In a previous episode, Fr. Tom talked about Jesus as the "Firstborn," but there is another similar image in Scripture that describes Jesus as the "Firstfruit."
In our reflections on the names and titles of Jesus, we already reflected a bit about Jesus as the Firstborn—the firstborn of creation, the firstborn from among the dead—and we reflected about how the firstborn is, according to the Scripture, offered to God, that there is the law of offering the firstborn. Then we saw also how God makes the son of David the firstborn, and the firstborn is the heir; the firstborn is the one who receives everything. SO you have this kind of double teaching about the firstborn: that we creatures offer to God the firstborn. For example, in Exodus, it says:
The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. You shall do likewise with your oxen and your sheep. Seven days it shall be with its dam; on the eighth day you shall give it to me. You shall be men consecrated to me.
So we know that the firstborn had this special place, and that God makes Christ the firstborn, David’s son the firstborn, and we know that he literally is the firstborn; he is the only-begotten Son, the Firstborn, the Heir of all things. We’ll speak about Jesus as the Heir later, but what we want to see today is that there is another biblical image applied to our Lord Jesus Christ, coming from the Holy Scripture, that’s very similar to prōtotokos, to firstborn, and that is the imagery of the firstfruit: the firstfruit, the aparchē.
For some reason—I don’t know exactly why—but in the English translations of the Scripture, both the Revised Standard and the King James, they translate that word, “aparchē,” plural. They say “firstfruits, the firstfruits,” but actually, technically, it’s a singular: “the firstfruit.” But there was in the Law, we have to see, that this firstfruit, the first that was harvested, the first that came—not only the firstborn from among the animals, but the first fruit from among the harvest—are also to be offered to God: each of the first fruits. The firstfruits of all the various kinds of plants and growth and food that comes are offered to God.
In the Torah, in the instruction of Moses, the Pentateuch, in virtually each of the books, you have the laws about the offering of the firstfruit. And you have two things there that can be distinguished. They go together, but they can be distinguished. One is that it’s simply the general rule, the general instruction, that you always offer the firstfruit to God: the first of the plants, the first that you harvest, the first that you receive whenever you receive it. You bring it and you offer it.
There were various harvests, feasts, according to the Torah, according to the instruction of Moses that you find in the Pentateuch, the books of the Bible; not Genesis, but in Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy you find this, that these firstfruits, the firstfruit of each thing had to be offered at the various times. So we might even dare to say that all of the feasts of Yahweh, all of the feasts of the Lord in the Law began as kind of agricultural and cosmic [types] of celebrations: Pascha, even; Pentecost for sure: the week of weeks, the seven times seven; the Feasts of Tabernacles and Booths: these were times of offerings of the harvest, the fruit of the earth. And there was the spring harvest. And there was the early harvest; there was the late harvest. And we could even say, as a general rule, the festival days according to the law of Moses all began as agricultural, cosmic [types] of festivals.
Then they received kind of historical meanings. Certainly Pascha was connected with Christ being raised from the dead, as we’ll see, as the firstfruit of those from among the dead, the firstfruit of humanity that’s offered to God. Then Pentecost itself, which was also a feast of the celebration of resurrection and victory, in the New Testament got connected with the risen and glorified Christ sending the Holy Spirit on the world, and that Holy Spirit was the firstfruit, bringing forth the firstfruit from among humanity, the firstfruit of those who belonged to Christ, filled with his Holy Spirit. We’ll see that also.
And then there’s the eschatological meaning: cosmic, historical, eschatological. “Eschatological” means having to do with the end of everything, the end times. And then these festivals, like the Resurrection of Christ from the dead and the firstfruit of the [ones] born from the dead, that he shows that there is the resurrection of all the dead; and all the dead are raised and the righteous from among the dead become the firstfruit to God of the whole of humanity forever and ever in the kingdom to come, filled with the Holy Spirit, to be vivified by the very power of God, to live forever.
Certainly, Pentecost—the feast of the Week of weeks, the seven weeks of seven days, the 49 days plus one: fifty, celebrating the victory of God in Christ in the New Testament—is connected with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which is then also the arabown or the pledge or the token, the guarantee of everlasting life in the age to come, eschatalogical. By the way, this term, “aparchē, firstfruit,” it is not only connected with the imagery of the firstborn, but it’s also connected with another Greek word in the New Testament used by St. Paul, “arabown,” which is like a guarantee or a pledge or a promise or that which we can expect to come for everyone; there are those who are first receiving it, and in the New Testament, that would be Christ himself and then those who belong to Christ, who will be, according to the Book of Revelation, the 144,000, the twelve from among Israel, from among the tribes, from among the nations, a symbolic number for all those who are saved.
So we move from agriculture and fertility and cosmos into historical acts of God’s wonders among men, saving them from Egypt, giving the Law on Sinai, and then finally the ultimate Pascha, raising Christ from the dead; the fulfillment of Sinai, giving the Holy Spirit on people’s hearts and not simply commandments on letters of stone, in letters on stone; and then all of this fulfilled in the age to come in the age of Christ, when everything is filled with the Holy Spirit and has communion with God. You have these levels in these festivals.
But what we want to focus on now is this firstfruit. In the Law, we have these commandments about offering the firstfruits generally, and then at very particular times and festivals, seasons, particularly Pascha, and Pascha lasts 50 days and is completed on Pentecost, and we should never forget that, that Pentecost means the entire 50 days, and the Pentecost Sunday is the last and final day, but that whole season of those 50 days is a festival of offering the firstfruits to God, physically and spiritually and humanly and historically; all these things come together.
When we look at the original commandments in the Law, we see how this is given. For example, in Exodus 23, it says; it is written (Exodus 23:14-16):
Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread; as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib. For in it, you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before me empty-handed.
And that unleavened bread feast is connected with Pascha itself, the Passover Exodus. And even here it’s connected with coming out of Egypt. Then it continues:
You shall keep the feast of harvests, the firstfruits. The feast of harvests of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the feast of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times a year shall all your males appear before the Lord. The first of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.
So these three times, it seems to me, are: Pascha, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, which in the New Testament would be Easter; and then the fiftieth day after Easter, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles; and then the Tabernacles becomes the Feast of Transfiguration in August, which is also a harvest feast. Now you have exactly the same thing in Leviticus. You have the appointed feasts in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus. Let me read:
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel: The appointed feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim as holy convocations…”
And that expression is used very often: “holy convocations, holy assemblies.” And that convocation, it’s a qahal; it’s a gathering; it’s where you get the word “church”; a gathering of the assembly of the covenanted people of God. “Say to the people of Israel…” That’s God’s people.
“The appointed feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim as holy convocations; my appointed feasts are these: six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work; it is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwellings.”
And that’s, of course, every single Saturday of the year. The seventh day was the day of rest, and, of course, for Christians, that’s the day when Christ lay dead in the tomb, resting from all his works, and then you have the resurrection of the dead, and then you have Sunday, the first day, which is the eighth day, which symbolizes the great and final day, actually the 50th day of Pascha; all of this comes together in Holy Scripture in an absolutely beautiful manner, how it all works. But then it continues in Leviticus:
“These are the appointed feasts of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim at the time appointed for them. In the first month on the 14th day of the month in the evening is the Lord’s Passover…”
So you have Pascha.
“On the 15th day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread of the Lord. Seven days you shall eat the unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. And then you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord seven days. On the seventh day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work.”
Then it continues:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel: When you come into the land which I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord and you may find acceptance. On the morrow after the Sabbath, the priest shall wave it.”
That’s, again, Sunday. That’s a prefiguration of the Lord’s day.
“And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb, year-old, without blemish, as a burnt offering.”
So you have the sheaf and the lamb connected together, one from the earth and the other from the living animals.
“The sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest you bring and the lamb you bring. And then all of this is offered to the Lord. It is a statute for you throughout the generations in all your dwellings.”
Then you get to Pentecost:
“And you shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath…”
That’s the Sunday after the Sabbath day.
“...from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave-offering, seven full weeks shall they be, counting fifty days…”
That’s where you get the word “Pentecost.”
“...to the morrow after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a cereal offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two loaves of bread to be waved, made to be two-tenths of an ephah. And they shall be of fine flour. They shall be baked with leaven as firstfruit to the Lord.”
There you have that expression again: “hos aparchē, as the firstfruit.” It’s plural here in Leviticus in the English: firstfruits, firstfruits of the Lord. Then it speaks about offering the lambs as the sin-offering, the peace-offering, and so on.
So you have these offerings in Leviticus as the firstfruit on Pascha and then the seven-times-seven-plus-one, counting from that day after the Sabbath, and then you have that Pentecostal, Paschal-Pentecostal season, which is offering of the firstfruit, the sheaf of the firstfruit of your harvest to the priest. You have the same thing in the book of Numbers. In the book of Numbers, you also have… I’ll just read the one that has to do, not with the Sabbath-day, the seventh day of the holy convocation with no laborious work, but you have again:
“On the day of the firstfruit, you shall offer a cereal offering of new grain to the Lord at your feast of weeks.”
That feast of weeks is the seven weeks of seven days that’s the Pentecostal period.
“And you shall have again a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work, but offer the cereal offering of the new grain as the firstfruit, and a burnt offering, pleasing odor to the Lord: bulls and one ram seven mild lambs mixed with oil”
And you have all these instructions about what to offer. Basically again, you have this double offering: the offering of the fruit of the earth and the offering of the animals. In Deuteronomy you have the very same statute, and I’ll read again here. You have, of course, the solemn assemblies; you have the Sabbath; you have the Passover sacrifice in the evening at the going-down of [the] sun, the time you came out of Egypt.
And, by the way, that’s why we celebrate Pascha in the middle of the night. Somebody asked me that recently: “Why don’t we celebrate the Pascha at the sunrise, when the women went to the tomb?” and so on. Because the actual Passover is taking place in the darkness, and in the Old Covenant, the people ate the Passover meal at night, clothed, standing, waiting to leave and to go, and that’s what Christians do [in] the darkness of the night of Easter. We go to church in the darkness and standing with our best clothes. We eat and drink the Passover service in the middle of the night, and keep vigil through the night, singing how Christ is risen from the dead. And then actually, liturgically, in the earliest Church, in ancient Christianity, they would have a Holy Eucharist at sunrise, too. Probably that’s how it was originally done in the Orthodox Church. You had the St. Basil Liturgy late on the eve of Easter, of the day of Resurrection. You kept the vigil through the night, standing all clothed, and then you ate again at the rising of the sun in the morning, the St. John Chrysostom Liturgy.
But in any case, getting back to the Bible here, you have in Deuteronomy the following words. It’s the 16th chapter:
“You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time you first put the sickle to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the feast of weeks to the Lord your God…”
Those are the seven-times-seven again.
“...with a tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, and you shall give as the Lord blesses you.
And then it goes on to speak about the booths. Here again, what has to be offered is the first, when you first put the sickle to the standing grain. That means the firstfruit.
So you have this throughout the Holy Scriptures. It’s repeated in other books. It’s repeated, for example, in the Chronicles, when Hezekiah, who was one of the rarely good kings of Israel—most of the kings of Israel were horrible and idolatrous and betraying God and following their own mind; there are a couple of good ones: Hezekiah, Josiah, and so on—but when Hezekiah was the [king] there, they had the renewal of all of these wonderful festivals, and they were told again that you have to keep these. In the 30th chapter of Chronicles, you had Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests, the Levites, to offer the various offerings, the peace-offering, the thank-offering, the praise-offering. And then you have it again.
And the command was spread about, that the people of Israel give in abundance the firstfruit of grain, wine, oil, honey, and all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.
So they offered the firstfruit, and it says about Hezekiah keeping these feastdays, that there was such great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon and David, such great celebrations were not offered with all these varied offerings which included the offering of the firstfruit.
And the very same thing took place when in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, when the Temple was being rebuilt. All of these things were restored and renewed again of the law of Moses. For example, reading Nehemiah:
We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruit of our ground, and the firstfruit of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord. Also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as is written in the Law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, and to bring the first of our coarse meal and our grain and our contributions and the fruit of every tree, the wine, the oil.
And this is what has to be brought to God: the firstfruit.
So this is what we find in the Holy Scripture. In the Proverbs, it says, “Honor the Lord with your substance, and with the firstfruit of all your produce. Then your barns will be filled with plenty; your vats will be bursting with wine.” So this is what we have.
In the Holy Scripture also, of the Old Covenant, you have another teaching about the firstfruit, and that is that Israel itself, Israel the people, are kind of chosen, are chosen by God as a kind of firstfruit of all humanity, that offers itself to God as the chosen portion of the human race, whose task it is is to prepare for the salvation of all the nations. So Israel is called God’s son, firstborn son, God’s heir, God’s portion, God’s klēronomia, God’s inheritance, but they’re also called the firstfruit. That’s an expression about the people themselves.
You have in the Holy Scripture, in the Prophecy of Jeremiah, these words:
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, ‘Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruit of his harvest.’ ”
But then it says:
“All who ate of it became guilty, and evil came upon them,” said the Lord.
Of course, Jeremiah is going to inveigh against the people, that God chose them as his son, as his bride, and as his firstfruit and as his firstborn and as the heir of all things, but they were not faithful to God. And then, of course, the Christians believe that the whole of the Holy Scripture ultimately comes down to one Person. The whole of humanity comes down to the New Adam, Jesus, and the whole of Israel comes down to that suffering servant of Yahweh, in which all of Israel is personified, the one who is literally God’s only-begotten Son, literally the firstborn of all creation, literally the firstborn of the dead, and literally the firstfruit, and that is Jesus Christ himself.
We get to the point where we see now that one of the titles of Jesus in Holy Scripture is the Firstfruit. He’s not only God’s Son; he’s not only the sacrificial offering; he’s not only the Lamb that is offered; he’s not only the Bread that is offered; he is not only the Heir of all things; he is not only the firstborn of creation, the firstborn of the dead; but Jesus is the Firstfruit, the firstfruit of our salvation, the firstfruit that is offered to God from among humanity that will then last forever in the kingdom of God to come.
The key text here, where you actually have Jesus called Firstfruit is in the first Corinthian letter, the first letter to the Corinthians, and this is what it says. It says (I Corinthians 15:19-20):
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people the most to be pitied, but in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruit of those who have fallen asleep.
That’s the expression: “the firstfruit of those who have fallen asleep.” And again, I mention it again, that in Greek it’s singular. For some reason in English, they write “firstfruits.” For example, the King James version—I just read the RSV—the King James version would say this:
For if, in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are, of all men, most miserable, but now is Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that sleep.
It says in Greek: “Nyni de Christos egēgertai ek nekrōn—but now Christ has been raised from the dead—aparchē tōn kekoimēmenōn—the firstfruit among those who have fallen asleep. And of course that means “who have died.” And then it says:
For since by man came death, by man also comes the resurrection of the dead. In Adam all die; in Christ shall all be made alive.
And then the King James reads this way:
But every man in his own order, Christ the firstfruit…
And again it’s singular there. You see: “Each one in its own order—ekastos de en tō idiō tagmati, aparchē Christos.” “Aparchē Christos—Christ the firstfruit.” And then afterward, it says: “They that belong to Christ, they that are christs, at his parousia, at his coming.”
I’ll read that straight through in the Revised Standard Version:
But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by man came death, by man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive, but each in his own order; Christ, the firstfruit, then at his coming, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God, the Father. After destroying every rule and every authority and every power, for he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
For God has put all things in subjection under his feet, but when it says all things are put in subjection under him, it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him.
When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under his feet…
That is, God the Father. “...so that God may be all and in all,” or, as it says in [the] RSV, “everything to everyone.”
So Christ is the firstfruit. He’s the firstfruit from among the dead. He’s the firstfruit of those who have fallen asleep. And that is a title of Jesus: the firstborn from among the dead and the firstfruit of those who have fallen asleep.
Interestingly, and it’s always the case; this is a pattern that continues—since Christ is the firstfruit, then the teaching is that the Christians are those who belong to him, his portion, those who are sealed by his Spirit, those who become sons of God in him, those who become sons of God by dying with him in baptism, being raised with him, being sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit—and that Holy Spirit is even called the gift of the firstfruit—they then also become, together with Christ, the firstfruits.
We who are baptized, who are sealed, who eat and drink at the table of the kingdom, who belong to Christ, who have put on Christ, in him and through him and with him, we, too, become the firstfruit unto God. The same way that Israel was the firstfruit of the Old Covenant, now the new Israel—well, there’s no Israel now—in the Israel of God, by faith and by grace, the firstfruit are those who believe in Jesus as the Christ and who accept him at his coming.
This is what we find also, very clearly written in the Holy Scripture. For example, in the Letter to the Romans, we have the teaching that “we know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruit of the Spirit (the firstfruit of the Holy Spirit), groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons the redemption of our bodies.” So the Spirit comes and gives this firstfruit to us in and with Christ and then we become the firstfruit together with him, belonging to God.
And then, in his letters, the Apostle Paul even names names sometimes. For example, in that very same Letter to the Romans, when St. Paul is greeting everybody at the end of the letter, in the 16th chapter, it’s interesting that he says, among the various greetings, “Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the firstfruit in Asia for Christ.” In RSV, it says, “the first convert,” but in Greek it says, “the firstfruit.” So the firstfruit in Asia for Christ was Epaenetus. Those who belong to Christ become the firstfruit together with him.
In the first Corinthian letter, where we just read about Christ being the Firstfruit, when [Paul] is greeting people in that particular letter, he speaks this way: “Now, brethren, you know that the household of Stephanos were (and again in the RSV it says:) the first converts in Achaia (that means Greece), and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.”
But actually what it says in Greek is, “Now, brethren, you know that the household of Stephanos were the firstfruit in Achaia.” So Epanaetus was the firstfruit in Asia, and Stephanos and his family were the firstfruit in Greece, in Achaia, Europe. So this is an expression that’s used in the Holy Scripture. The same thing is said in the Letter of James, where it speaks about the people of God, as a whole, becoming the firstfruit together with Christ to God. Let me find it here in the Letter [of] James, where you have that very same expression being used. Let me find it here so I could just read it exactly to you, where he says that those who are belonging to Christ and believing in Christ are now the Israel of God; they are themselves as it were the firstfruit. Yes, here it is (James 1:18). It says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruit of his creatures.” The firstfruit of his creatures: that’s the Letter of James. So it’s applied to Christians generally, and then to particular people in particular places, that they and then in that sense, we, too, now even to this day, that we become firstfruit together with Christ.
In Greek, that sentence in James—it’s the 18th verse of the first chapter—it says, “Of his own will”—this is the King James version—“Of his own will he begat us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruit of his creatures—aparchēn tina tōn aftou ktismatōn—the firstfruit of his creatures.” But also it’s the firstfruit of those who are being saved, the firstfruit of those who belong to Christ.
This, then, is the teaching that Israel was created to be the firstfruit of God’s people, and as God’s people, they offer the firstfruit of the fruits of the earth and the firstborn of the animals, and that offering of the firstfruit and that offering of the animals symbolizes and expresses their own life, as offering themselves to God as the firstfruit. Then Christ comes and fulfills it all, and he becomes the Firstfruit.
And you have that definite article there again. Remember how we said that we’re all made to be sons of God, but Jesus is the Son of God? We are all sons of man, but he is the son of man. There are plenty of prophets, but he is the Prophet. There are various teachers, but he is the Teacher. There are the priests, but he is the High Priest. There are shepherds and kings, but he is the King, the Shepherd. So he is also the aparchē, the aparchē of all the creatures that are offered to God.
Then we all become that with him. That’s what it says in the Letter of James. It says it also, by the way, in the Apocalypse. We should mention also that in the Apocalypse, you have the very exact same expression, that we who belong to God become, as it were, the firstfruits with him. This is how it puts it in the Apocalypse. It says (Revelation 14:1-4):
I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him the 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their [foreheads]. I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters, the sound of loud thunder. There was the sound of harpers playing their harps. They sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.
And, of course, that’s the symbolic number of the saved. And then it says:
It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.
It says in Greek, “They are chaste.” And the virgin one is the one who’s faithful to God. And it says:
It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from humanity (from mankind) as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.
Then it’s again, plural here, but in Greek it’s singular: “As the firstfruit for God and the Lamb.”
In their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless (they are spotless).
Again you have everybody becoming the firstfruits together with Christ.
I just would like to end this little meditation on the firstfruit by reading a quotation from St. Cyril of Alexandria. It’s very interesting that in the earliest Church, the feast of Pentecost, which we now almost totally and exclusively think about in the terms of the coming of the Holy Spirit, was actually the final day of the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. It was the ending of the Paschal season, the 50 days of the Paschal season. And because it was originally connected with the harvest, then it came to be understood as a kind of a harvest of all of those who are saved together with Jesus. And then Jesus himself was considered to be the Firstfruit of the renewed humanity, Christ himself, and then we, together with him.
So I’d just like to read this. Cyril, of course, didn’t invent this. He probably learned it through the tradition of Origen who got it from Philo, the Jew, the Alexandrian Jew in the Old Testament, who interpreted exactly the festival of Pentecost in the Mosaic law as the expression of thanksgiving and forgiveness and pardon and liberation and deliverance and jubilee. These were all the things that were connected with those festivals in the Holy Scripture. Now all of this is fulfilled in Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit. All of these things become the firstfruit. In Latin, by the way, the firstfruit was called the “nova, the new, the new thing”; it’s interesting.
I’ll just read here. This is a book called The Bible and the Liturgy by Jean Danielou, a wonderful book. But this is what he writes about St. Cyril:
The liturgical interpretation of Pentecost is developed especially by Cyril of Alexandria. It is in his work that we find a truly Christian symbolism of the Jewish feast of the harvest. In his work On worship and in spirit and in truth (De Adoratione in spiritu et veritate), he comments successively on two of the biblical texts concerning Pentecost. The first commentary is concerned with Numbers
Which we already read earlier. It says:
“On the day of the firstfruits you shall offer to Yahweh a new oblation on the Feast of the Weeks.” Cyril comments on the texts: “We say that it is the mystery of the Resurrection of the Lord which is signified by the feast of the firstfruit. For indeed it is in Christ that human nature (humanity) first flowered anew, henceforth doing away with corruption and doing away with the old age of sin.” This passage (Fr. Danielou writes) [clearly shows] that for Cyril the content of the feast of Pentecost is the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.
Then he explains further, quoting St. Cyril:
“The death of Emmanuel for us is the Paschal feast, but the feast immediately following it which is no no way inferior to it, is the resurrection from among the dead which shook off corruption and caused us to pass over to a new life. Indeed we have stripped off the old man and put on the new man, who is Christ. Then we contemplate Christ as the firstfruit of renewed humanity, that is Christ himself in the figure of the sheaf and in the firstfruit of the field and the first ears of grain…”
Of course, this is connected to Christ as the Bread of Life also.
“...offered in holy oblation to God the Father.” Thus the feast of the harvest is seen to be the figure of the Resurrection of Christ under the double aspect which characterizes the content of the feast: first, it is an offering, and this is a figure of the offering of Christ himself to his Father, in the sacrificial character of his death and Resurrection; and then secondly, it is an offering of firstfruit…
And here it’s in plural, too: firstfruits
...and Christ is himself the firstfruits of redeemed humanity.
Christ himself is the aparchē of redeemed humanity. And then Fr. Danielou notes that this appears already in Hippolytus, much earlier, a Roman bishop, bishop of Rome, and is quoted by Theodoret of Cyrus, where he writes:
“Pentecost is a symbol of the kingdom of heaven, Christ having gone up to his Father and offered his humanity as a gift of the firstfruit to God.”
So it says Cyril explains:
“Therefore Christ is prefigured here in the symbol of the sheaf, considered as the firstfruit of the ears of grain and as the new fruit: He is indeed also the firstborn from among the dead, the way which opens to us the Resurrection, he who makes all things new. All the old things have passed away; now everything has become new, says Holy Scripture. The sheaf is presented before the face of the Lord, so Emmanuel, God with us, Christ himself, risen from the dead, the new and incorruptible fruit of the human race, ascended to heaven to present himself henceforth for us before the face of the Father.”
So you have St. Cyril picking up like on the Letter to [the] Hebrews, where the way the priests entered into the holy place, offering the firstfruit of the earth, Christ enters into the sanctuary not made by hands in the heavens, offering himself as the firstfruit of our salvation, and then he takes us with himself when he ascends into heaven, enters the holy place, and we become, together with him, the firstfruit that is offered to God.
St. Cyril writes, “The sheaf is presented before the face of the Lord, so Emmanuel, God with us, Christ himself, risen from the dead, the new and incorruptible fruit of the whole humanity, ascended to heaven to present himself henceforth for us before the face of the Father.” And we should notice also, as Fr. Danielou writes in this book, that this whole season, this whole fifty days was a time of offering the firstfruit. And if you go to church on Pentecost, or if you ever have been in church on Pentecost, you will see how the services even speak about the Firstfruit, Christ offered as the firstfruit of our salvation, the firstfruit of the renewed humanity, the first one risen from the dead.
And then that becomes a jubilee festival. Everyone is set free; everybody’s liberated. All the sins are pardoned when that is done. And it’s interesting, by the way, in the Orthodox Church, that the last and final day of Pentecost, when Christ offers himself as the Firstfruit, and then the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us as a kind of firstfruit within us, making us the firstfruit, it also makes that wonderful point that in that action, all the sins of the world are washed away and pardoned. It’s a day of pardon. And the Orthodox Liturgy makes the point that it pardons the whole of humanity for the crucifixion of Christ. It actually says that in the service, that when the Holy Spirit is poured out, when Christ as the Firstfruit enters to offer himself in the Holy of Holies on behalf of the whole humanity, God accepts that sacrifice and forgives all the sins of the whole world.
The specific point is made that it even washes away the guilt of the crucifixion of Jesus, and it’s applied specifically, in the Orthodox Liturgy, to the Jewish people, because some people think that the Jews exclusively are guilty for the crucifixion of Christ. That, of course, is not true; the whole of humanity is guilty. Christ is crucified by the whole of humanity, Jews and Gentiles together. And if you can speak at all about Israel rejecting its Messiah, following St. Paul, it would be the rejection of the preaching of the Gospel that Jesus is raised, that he is the firstborn of the dead, that he is the firstfruit of our humanity, that he is the firstfruit of those who were asleep. It’s the rejection of that faith in Jesus which is the rejection, not the crucifixion.
But here, of course, the point is made that the ascension and the enthronement and the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit as the living water washes away all of the sins and the stains and the guilts of every sin, beginning with the crucifixion of Christ himself, the greatest and most heinous sin that humanity ever created. All of this is forgiven in the resurrection, the ascension, the glorification of Christ at the right hand of God, and he pours forth the Holy Spirit upon us so that we could have the forgiveness of our sins, the pardon, the liberation from slavery and that we could have exactly what Christ himself has, namely, communion with God in the Holy Spirit in the holy place of God, going together with him as the one risen from the dead, the Lamb of God, the firstborn from among the dead, and the firstfruit of our salvation, the firstfruit of the whole of humanity and we together with him.
So this is our faith: Christ is the Firstfruit. He is the firstfruit from among the dead. He is the firstfruit of all those who have fallen asleep. This is the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Then his teaching, St. Paul’s teaching, together with the entire New Testament, is that we also, in Christ, have the status of Firstfruit, the status of Firstborn, the status of sons of God. This is what we have.
Let’s hear it again:
In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruit of those who have fallen asleep. For as by man came death and by man resurrection from the dead, so as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive, each in his own order, Christ the Firstfruit, and then at his coming, in the parousia, those who belong to Christ. Then the end comes, when he delivers the kingdom to God his Father after destroying death. And then the Son himself is subjected to the Father who put all things underneath his feet, and God is everything to everyone. God is all and in all.
But this is our faith: each in his own order, Christ the Firstfruit, and then at his coming, those who belong to Christ and become the Firstfruit together with him.