Archpriest Avvakum, was one of the most influential of the Old Believers movement which was started in opposition to the reforms of Patriarch Nikon between the years 1652-66. Avvakum believed that the changes were abominations in the eyes of God and would not agree to them. The following of the old ways continues to present day where there is an estimated 2 million followers in Russia.
The schism, known as the raskol (which means cleaving apart) caused great consternation within the Church and Russia. The reforms were caused by findings that the Russian Orthodox rituals and writings had deviated from the Greek Church over the centuries. It was thought that the changes were due to poor transcription and translation from the original Greek.
Patriarch Nikon had full support from Tsar Alexis I (Episode 25) who called a synod (meeting of the church hierarchy). It was agreed that major deviations occurred which led to an over 400 page report making the changes law of the church. Many church goers refused to follow the changes. Many fled Russia and headed to the north and east. Those that remained were harassed and persecuted. The leaders were arrested and sent to exile in Siberia.
Avvakum was imprisoned countless times for the rest of his life after first opposing the changes. He began to write an autobiography which has been reprinted and translated numerous times over the centuries. His final 14 years were spent in a sunken, log-framed hit in the ground in the town of Pustozyorsk which was above the Arctic Circle before he burned at the stake.
Over the years, the Old Believers were persecuted. Peter the Great double taxed them for refusing to shave their beards. Nicholas I viewed them as a threat to his rule and harassed them mercilessly.