Who Prays for Marilyn?

I know a man in Christ who prays for Marilyn Monroe every day as a part of his prayers for all the departed.  He doesn’t pray for her under her stage-name of “Marilyn” though.  He prays for her under her real name of “Norma Jeane”, the name given her by her mother and under which she was once baptized by (of all people) the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson while under the foster care of a very fundamentalist family.

Monroe was and remains a much misunderstood woman.  She not only adopted the stage name of “Marilyn Monroe” when her real married name was Norma Jeane Doughtery, but also adopted the persona of the blond sex-pot bimbo, despite the fact that she was quite intelligent and owned and read hundreds of books, including James Joyce’s Ulysses.  It was, after all, the 40’s and 50s and there were few ways women who looked like her could make a living in Hollywood where she lived and where her mother once worked.

More tragically she almost certainly suffered from what today would be diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder, which made it difficult for her to sustain long-lasting relationships. Elton John’s song about her Candle in the Wind recognized that she “never knew who to cling to when the rain set in”.  This was almost certainly the result of her biological father abandoning her mother before Norma Jeane was born, and the trauma of being abandoned by her mother after she was hospitalized in an asylum when Norma Jeane was very young so that she spent time in an orphanage and in a number of foster homes—including one in which she was sexually molested.

She was not a Christian, despite (or perhaps because of) her fundamentalist upbringing in a number of foster homes.  The churches of the day (such as the Roman Catholic Church) were not kind to her; the Catholic “Legion of Decency” constantly denounced her films, despite the fact that by today’s Game of Thrones standards they were pretty tame.  In fact in the famous skirt-blowing scene in the film The Seven Year Itch (which so enraged her then husband Joe DiMaggio that he beat her up and left her with bruises) her skirt never really blew up much above her knees.

Marilyn desperately wanted children, and was devastated by her two (some authorities say three) miscarriages.  She died of accidental overdose in 1962 (inset photo is from her autopsy when the blood had started to congeal in her face).

This is all fascinating, but Hollywood contains many such tragedies.  Why pray for Marilyn?  The person who daily prays for Marilyn answered it in this way:  “Everyone should have someone who prays for them after they’re gone.  Most Christians regard Monroe as a brainless Hollywood sex-pot, and would never think of praying for her.  Those who knew her better and admired her are not usually Christians, and do not pray for the dead. Since probably no one else is praying for her, I will.  It might be a waste of time, but I have wasted time in worse things than useless prayer.”

I understand this.  It is for the same reason that I pray daily for the Rev. H.A. Maxwell Whyte. Whyte was a Pentecostal pastor who flourished in Toronto in the 70s (see inset).  Looking back on his teaching ministry with more scholarly and Orthodox eyes, I now know that exegetically he got practically  everything wrong, including his insistence that the Pope was the Antichrist.  He was self-taught, and his view of church history was unsophisticated to the point of absurdity.  Nonetheless, I loved him anyway, and often attended his Sunday evening services with my mother.  I keep Pastor Whyte in my prayers because the Orthodox who pray for the departed have never heard of him, and the Pentecostals who might remember him never pray for their dead.  Everyone should have someone who pray for them after they are gone, and so I undertake that task.

This obligation to pray for others devolves upon us because we are all interconnected spiritually.  In the world we are all children of a common Lord by virtue of creation, and in the Church we are all members one of another in Christ.  We are therefore obligated to pray for one another, to uphold each other in prayer and commend to God those whom we know.

This can even become a part of our daily life.  When we hear a siren in the distance, we can make the sign of the cross and commend to God those for whom the siren sounds (or possibly for whom the bell tolls).  When we pass someone in the street while out for a walk, we can quietly ask God to bless them.  We may not know their name or their story or anything at all about them, but we know that God made them and loves them.  God calls us to be a blessing to others in the world, including strangers whom we will never actually meet or get to know.  We should therefore pray for all, perhaps especially for the non-Orthodox and those for whom no one else will pray.  And that includes Pentecostal pastors like H. A. Maxwell Whyte.  It even includes people like Norma Jeane.


  1. This encourages me! Since my baptism into the Orthodox Church five years ago (at then age 64), I’ve been praying for the “heterodox” departed within my own family, as well as people I’ve known as co-workers and friends over the years. Some claimed to be agnostics, one or two even atheists.
    God is merciful and just way, way beyond an inkling of my comprehension. And, just.

  2. I appreciate that article. I’m not a “cradle Orthodox,” and I remember quite a few of the departed who are not Orthodox in my prayers. I really did not know the church teaching on that. Thank you.

    1. I am not sure that there is an “official teaching”, but since in our Liturgy we pray for non-Orthodox people as well as Orthodox (such as our King and your President) it seems reasonable to commend everyone to God. God, of course, will do what seems good to Him.

  3. My prayer life is loaded with remembering those outside the faith who have left this earth and I ask Saint Varus to pray with me. I simply refuse to allow people to go into eternity without prayer. As I consume the cup one of my petitions for the Lord is to remember is all those who have no one to pray for them. It may be a waste of time but for Saint Varus that is his special ministry and I don’t think Saints waste their time.

  4. Thank you for the reminder Fr Lawrence.
    I always look forward to your blogs, for me they don’t come often enough, but hey ho, be thankful for what you have!
    Yours in Christ

  5. Thank you for this passage/article . I used both Marilyn Munroe and Lady Di in my classroom when speaking of models that women have given to the media for consideration. It is rather a complex model for study. The best analysis I read was from a priest who spoke about non-violence. We need to find models to understand women through the lens of non-violence. Thank you

  6. I am very elderly and I remember Marilyn Monroe well
    . At that time she was noted as a comedienne , I thought.!

    She played the traditional part of a dizzy blonde , a dramatic type often used in Hollywood films then ,and used even in more in light fiction novels ( see PG Wodehouse), and she was valued for her performances at the time.,
    She became only “just sex symbol” to the more humourless a bit later . The more humourless being mostly interested then and now in discovering unsavoury meanings in every action and pointing them out in newsprint. . They enjoy pricking peoples bubbles . No lightheartedness. ! We can thank God for people like Marilyn for lightening our lives even when they are not saintly .

  7. My wife was received into the Church at age 60. She has always prayed for others. She just kept doing that.
    For converts it is quite natural to pray for folks not of the Orthodox faith (yet) and for one’s parents, siblings and sometimes spouses and grown children.
    Not to mention the invocation “On behalf of all and for all.” in the Divine Liturgy.

  8. A beautiful article! I only just read it today, after following a trail of links. I think this is so important for all of us who live in a society that is highly pluralistic, in which so many of us have relatives and friends of non-Orthodox faiths (and, increasingly, no faith at all).
    Prayer, like love, is never wasted, no matter how strange or futile it may seem to human minds or, perhaps, even when they seem to us to be somehow misdirected. W e have only to remember that we have committed ourselves to walk in the Way of One who prayed for mercy to be sown to his own unjust judges and cruel executioners.
    At our little monastery, we conclude the list of names at our daily, midday prayers for the departed with, “together with those who die this day and all those who have no one to pray for them by name.” It as an expression of solidarity with all who share in the image of God, of trust in the love of God for all that he has made, and of humility before the face of God who, alone, searches the depths of the human heart and sees the pain and burdens therein.
    Lord, have mercy upon the souls of Norma Jeane and Pastor Whyte!

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