Thank you for the interesting post.
As for his theological and liturgical reform, correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that the reform was quite small, in fact.
It is always crucial to obey Christ and "judge what is right" in all things, small or great, for as the Epistle claims, "if we fail in the smallest point, we are guilty of every offense".
Jesus Christ also condemned the Pharisaical attitude which was not concerned about small matters. In modern bibles at Luke 11:42 it goes like this, "...these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
There are of course several places where the Lord Himself explains the importance of small things,
Mt. 12:34 "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful in small things, I will make thee ruler over many: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord"
He tried to make the liturgical language of the Russian Church closer to the language of the Greeks; for example, he insisted that the name of our Lord be pronounced "Іісус" ("EE-EE-SOOS") instead of "Ісус" ("EE-SOOS").
David Scheffel writes, “Everyone is aware of Nikon’s substitution of Iisus for the word Isus (Jesus) and of Nikolai for Nikola (Nicholas).” page 139 of In the shadow of Antichrist.
Nikon changed the spelling of Jesus putting into oblivion the good memory of the proper spelling. The pure old Slavonic word for Jesus is very close to the ancient Arabic “issa” so there is precedence for the old Russian practice. In the Eastern Syriac language the name is spelled similarly to the pure old Slavonic as “ishou”, and it is not wise to overlook any of these. It is only false fear that would cause anyone to change the good long established way. Many seem to forget that it was saintly and especially blessed Greeks who gave the Slavic people their Sacred Language. They were not wrong, neither was the Russian practice for centuries. If it works do not try to fix it, or it will only get worse. What appears as a small thing in one way is actually a reflection of very meaningful aspects of Faith.
He also insisted on the "троeпeрстіe," making the sign of the cross with three fingers - the thumb, the index and the third finger - held together and touching the body, and the remaining two fingers held together and touching the palm.
It was the heretical Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), following in the 5 heresies of the Great Schism, who first taught the heresy that the sign of the cross be made with three fingers extended, he is the source the confusion. Until this time we have ancient Orthodox dogmatic teachings explaining that two fingers were extended. The most ancient icons likewise are a good testimony showing two fingers extended. Also there are Orthodox saints with incorrupt hands in the form of two fingers extended. It was this false teaching pope who sent the Crusaders that sacked Constantinople. The victors always have influence over their captives and many western heresies (like those instigated later by Nikon in Russia) began at this time in Constantinople, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Alexandria and the Middle East. The three fingers, which place the Holy Trinity on the Cross (a great heresy) is merely one departure from Orthodoxy, Russia kept the correct practice of placing the two natures of Christ on the Cross, at least till Nikon.
It cannot be overlooked that Faith and Practice are inseparable. Like water inside a jar, orthodoxy (correct Faith) will leak out and is lost if we break with orthopraxy (correct Practice). We do not have one without the other, it is a delicate balance.
The main reason why Nikon's reforms met such a strong resistance was that after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, there appeared to be a growing consensus among the Russian (or, broader, Eastern Slavic) clergy that now, they, and not the Greeks, were the center of the Orthodox world, the force that was supposed to be leading in defending of the Holy Orthodoxy and not following some weak, degrading, decaying foreign influence.
Yes, until Constantinople's fall they had kept a Greek bishop in Russia, but afterward Russia threw
the Greek bishop in prison for heresy, for his union with the Latin's during the final liturgy. By this time it really had become a big mess in the other Orthodox lands. Russia became The New Jerusalem, the Third Rome and Holy Russia.
Timothy Ware in his book, The Orthodox Church in 1972, says that during the two centuries after the fall of Constantinople there was communion between the Latin's and the Greek's. p.108, see p. 107 also.
Andrey Kurbsy. a prince of the 16th century Russia and defender of Orthodox, is noted for saying that the fall of Constantinople was truly destruction along the lines of the apocalypse, that it was then that, "Satan was loosed from his bonds."
Iosif of Volokolamsk (the Father of Medieval Russia) soon wrote, "Behold, today apostasy is come."
Prince Ivan I said, "Since Constantinople and (its) emperor are no more, we must do what we can. God depends on us, the Russians, to carry on his kingdom. We are his Church and what remains of the Roman and Byzantine Empires."
It is also written that it is marked from the time of the fall of Constantinople that the Church in Russia had complete independence.
After the Turks took over Constantinople the Roman Catholics added incorrect notes to the Greek Pedalion (aka "Rudder" - Canon Law) during the many centuries of the Latin captivity of Orthodoxy. During this time it was forbidden by the Turks to print Christian books in the Balkans. All such materials were sent to Venice, a papal region, to be printed.
So we see how the Old Believers were correct in not accepting Nikon's reforms, as the Greek's had capitulated to the Latin's. This is why the Old Believers are known for keeping the Orthodox Chant, language and so much more that is now lost everywhere else.
Also, we need to realize that within the Eastern Slavic clergy and monastics, there already had been a rift, started by the debates between the so-called "nestyazhateli" (followers of St. Nilus of Sora) and "iosiflyanye" (followers of bishop Iosif of Volotsk). The grassroots opposers of patr. Nikon were closer to the position of "nestyazhateli," while the supporters of Nikon were clearly "iosiflyanye."
This is another important area of study for me over the years. Monastics are not to own anything. So I side with the non-possessors and St. Nilus. He was also a good example to us with regard to mason buildings. After the death of the Tsar's pious wife, Ivan IV went to visit the wilderness community of St. Nilus. By Imperial command a stone monastery was to built for them. When St. Nilus became aware of the plan it was stopped in its tracks and was canceled. Below is an Old Believer sketch of anti-mason St. Nilus. Thank you for reminding me of him, every time a special gladness settles with me.