I was with Jim on Athos. As it would turn out, the only occasion on which we would leisurely spend time together, just the two of us. We were visiting the Holy Mount as part of a larger group of pious parishioners from the somewhat less holy city of Amsterdam, but first had left the women behind, and then were left behind ourselves by the men. This on the basis of the assumption, for me at the time still unfamiliar but admittedly not incorrect, that it would ill suit us elderly to hike the ancient mule tracks of the Mount from one monastery to the other, as had been planned for our more able-bodied fellow travelers. So we were stationary for a few days at the enchanting monastery of Koutloumousiou, together with two others of our pilgrim party with limbs deemed too antique for sport. Enjoying our magical surroundings, the prayer, the silence, and the sun.
Just in front of the monastery gate is an old drinking water fountain, protected by a dome resting on brick arches and two white stone pillars, and well equipped with lovely benches to sit close to the gently gurgling water. Coming up through a decorated metal mouthpiece, the water drops into a stone basin of a cool, deep green color. There was also an abundance of monastery cats who, of course only after we had first properly introduced ourselves, were most willing to be petted and give encouraging head bumps. A monk is blessed with the enviable task of feeding them.
We sat opposite each other, breathing it all in. So this was Athos. The weather definitely was divine. In the distance the summit of the Mount, around us its green promontories, further on the blue Aegean Sea.
Our surroundings full of holiness, our deliberations should have been the same. One way or another, through a thought route I don't remember, our conversation arrived at the prohibition of persons of the female sex entering the autonomous region of Mount Athos. Carefully clinging to kind words – Jim a kind man, me trying to be one – we both had to confess that we felt this tradition had become untenable. The wannabe Orthodox I am failed to prevent the academic lawyer in me from wondering what would happen if someone were to take her case to court. Ouch. Jim is my godfather. I told him I missed my female companion. He said he did the same. Very much so. The feeling would grow on both of us over the next few days. I was happy then. I know Jim was too.
Arno Akkermans is a member of the Orthodox Parish of Saint Nicholas of Myra in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He works as a law professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and became the godson of Jim Forest and Irina Kuznetsova at the Our Lady of All Protection Orthodox Monastery in Bussy-en-Othe, France.