Below are excerpts from Bp Basil's article “Some differences between Greek and Russian divine services and their significance”, with accompanying comments of mine:
Following the 1838 reform, the Greeks (except the Athonite monks who kept the old order) replaced Psalms 102/103 ("Bless the Lord, O my soul") and 145/146 ("Praise the Lord, O my soul") as well as the Beatitudes, which follow, by antiphons, i.e. brief appeals to the Mother of God or to Christ, who is risen and is praised in His saints. The Russians continue to sing, each Sunday, the two noted psalms and the Beatitudes. They are replaced by antiphons only at great feasts or on weekdays. The dropping of the psalms and the Beatitudes has the advantage (if it can actually be considered the advantage) of shortening the Divine Liturgy. However, it pays to regretfully note that the Liturgy of the Catechumens thus loses its didactic and Biblical character, both Old and New Testamentary, which must be a part of it. The same can be said about the 1838 reform's deletion of the prayers for the catechumens. It becomes unclear why the first part of the Liturgy continues to be called "Liturgy of the Catechumens." We will note that the Athonite Greek monks continue to pray for the catechumens during Liturgy throughout the whole year.
A likely reason for the dropping of the prayers for the catechumens by the Greeks may be as much due to the monocultural society that Greece was (though this is slowly changing). I hesitate to call it a manifestation of ethnophyletism, for fear of opening a can of worms. Certainly in my experience, I had never heard the prayers for the catechumens at any of the Greek churches I have attended over many years, until in the last ten years or so. Perhaps there has been an episcopal directive in recent years to do so.
Another feature, which we will note, occurs during the Liturgy of the Faithful, during the Cherubic Hymn. Here the differences in behaviour become noticeable immediately. When the hymn begins, the Greeks have the habit of sitting down while the Russians love to kneel.
Greeks do indeed sit at the Cherubic Hymn, but I have never seen Russians kneel at this point in any of the Russian/Slavic churches I have attended.
The same can be said about one of the first phrases of the Eucharistic Canon. It is read differently, at least in our time, by the Greeks and the Russians:”Έλαιον ειρήνης, θυσίαν αινέσεως", which means "Oil of peace, sacrifice of praise" (in Greek) and "Mercy of peace, sacrifice of praise" (in Russian). It is obvious that this is the result of orthographic confusion that occurred in Greek manuscripts between the two words, which in Byzantine Greek, although written differently, were pronounced identically (although with different endings: elaion - oil and eleos - mercy). Similar confusions, called "iotacisms," occur very frequently. It is almost a certainty that the form elaion (oil) is the original and primary one, while eleos (mercy) is erroneous or more likely, a wilful new introduction by a copyist who wanted to "enhance" the text. Here we see a classical example of the evolution of a literal Biblical text into a symbolic and a spiritualised one. This is the most unlikely case of a "reversed" evolution -- from a simple to a complex. Russian copyists and liturgists preferred the spiritualised form (mercy and not oil) and adapted it to the Slavonic Liturgy. However, it would be a mistake to think that it is precisely the Slavonic copyists to whom the "honour" of such "enhancement" belongs. This first occurred among the Greeks, and the witness to this is that Nicholas Cabasilas is well aware of this in his "A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy" (14th century). Although he does not literally cite this passage but paraphrases it, his paraphrase shows that he reads it as "mercy" and not "oil." This becomes more evident in the following passage: "We offer mercy," Cabasilas says, "to Him who said: I will have mercy and not sacrifice... We also offer the sacrifice of praise" (P.G. 150, 396 AB).
In any of the documents I have at hand, I have only come across the word eleon, (note the spelling) which is derived from the Greek word eleos (mercy), not elaion (olive or olive oil). Not sure where the author got the idea that the original form was “oil”. Given that almost every word in the Liturgy is from scripture, it seems very odd to me that “oil” could ever have been the original form, due to the complete match of the scripture passage “I will have mercy and not sacrifice” with the opening words of the hymn.
More could be said about the liturgical differences in other services (Vespers, Matins, Hours, etc.) between the Greeks and Russians but, in order not to expand our presentation too much, we will note that at least in parish practice the main difference is that the Greeks celebrate Vespers in the evening, on the eve of Sundays and feasts, and begin the next day with Matins and go into the Liturgy immediately following the Great Doxology, thus omitting the Hours. The Russians, however, celebrate what they call "The All-night Vigil," i.e. Vespers and Matins combined, which is not a service that lasts all night.
(... at least, not in parish churches. Vigils in monasteries, Greek and Slavic, can last anywhere from four to eight hours.)
Among the Greeks, the people especially like two services that attract large crowds of people: this is the Hymn of Cassiane ("Lord, the woman having fallen into a multitude of sins...") on the one hand and the solemn procession with the Burial Shroud in the evening of Holy Friday on the other. It can be said that for the ordinary Greek, these two services constitute the more important moments of the whole Passion Week. The hymn of the sinful woman is especially loved, and many laymen know it verbatim and like to sing it. Newspapers write about it when describing the services of Passion Week. More or less the same can be said about the procession with the Shroud. It is not merely carried around the temple but the procession goes on for miles, escorted by thousands of the faithful holding lighted candles and singing the burial hymns.
Among the Russians this is done somewhat differently, not so much in the meaning of the services and hymns, which are almost identical, but in relation to their place in popular piety. Thus Cassiane's hymn, which among the Greeks occupies a central place, is likewise sung by the Russians, but does not attract the same degree of attention on the part of the faithful, many of whom are even not familiar with it. It is simply one of the hymns of Passion Week, all of which are splendid. However, among the Russians, the Vigil of Great Friday (actually in the evening of Great Thursday) attains especially great significance. The so-called "Twelve Gospels" is one of the most beloved and best-attended Passion Week services.
The service of the "Twelve Gospels" is also very important for the Greeks but less so than for the Russians.
Not in my experience! Greeks and Russians attend this service with equal enthusiasm.
As for Great Friday, for the Russians, the most important service for that day is not the Burial of Christ (in the afternoon) as among the Greeks, although it is very moving and attracts many people (there are no lengthy processions), but the procession with the Burial Shroud in the evening. This attracts a great number of faithful and it has a greater meaning for the spiritual content of Passion Week.
If anything, the reverse is true. The Epitaphios service (evening of Great Friday) with the procession ranks as popular as the Resurrection. Far fewer Greeks attend the Apokathelosis (Vespers of Great Friday). By contrast, Russians flock to this service, with many older women in tears during the procession of the Plashchanitsa (Burial Shroud) while the choir slowly and solemnly sings the troparion Blagoobrazniy Iosif
(Noble Joseph). The numbers thin out for the Great Friday evening service. The procession with the Plashchanitsa still occurs, but in a more circumspect manner than the Greeks (around the church, instead of around the block).
The Liturgy of St Basil the Great on Great Saturday with the reading of fifteen Paremii -- lessons from the Old Testament (reduced to three by the Greeks, except in Athos, in accordance with the 1838 Typikon) is not too well attended notwithstanding its theological riches and depth.
Really? On Holy Saturday morning, Greek churches are overflowing, though the reason is more likely to be practical rather than spiritual. This is the last rush to have Holy Communion before the Resurrection, as few Greeks stay on for the Liturgy of the Resurrection.
I will move to the exposition of my theme from another point of view: the place of the veneration of the Mother of God in the noted variations. Here one needs to take note of a novelty recently introduced by the Zoe Brotherhood under obvious Protestant influences, which is quite common in the parishes of major Greek cities but not found in Athos. This is the traditional Orthodox expression "Most Holy Mother of God, save us" being replaced by "Most Holy Mother of God, pray for us," which diminishes the veneration of the Mother of God. This latter form "pray for us" is in no way heretical. It is found in many prayers to the Mother of God. But when it is used to replace "save us," it gains the appearance of an anti-Theotokian coloration. An earlier parallel trend can be found in the 1838 Typikon's direction. The feast of the Annunciation, in the light of its significance in the work of our salvation -- "the beginning of our salvation" and its context, can never be moved to another date even if it coincided with Great Friday, Great Saturday or Pascha itself. Changing the ancient practice, the 1838 Typikon, reasoning that such a coincidence would result in liturgical difficulties taxing the abilities of the rural clergy to cope with them, directs that in such cases the feast of the Annunciation be moved to the second day of Bright Week. This innovation, accepted in Greece, was rejected by the Athonite monks who found that this diminishes the feast of the Annunciation and thus diminishes the role of the Mother of God in our salvation.
In all my years, I have never come across the usage “Most-holy Mother of God, pray for us” as a refrain in any canons to the Mother of God, either for the Annunciation, or for any of her feasts, or from the Ochtoikh.
It can be shown that the feast of the Annunciation itself is observed with greater solemnity among the Greeks than among the Russians.
This is largely due to the 25th of March being Greek Independence Day, commemorating the day of the raising of the rebellion in 1821 against Ottoman rule. The date was not chosen at random. The uprising was orchestrated by laymen and clergy, who deliberately chose the date as a symbol of Hellenic renewal after nearly 400 years of domination. The battle standard of a blue cross on a white background was provided by Bishop (Metropolitan)Germanos of Old Patras, who took down the curtain hanging across the Royal Doors of the Aghia Lavra monastery church. Later, the colours were reversed to form the national flag of independent Greece.
I have posted these comments not as a presumption, but to compare the differences between the article and my experiences and observations in attending both Greek and Russian churches over many years.