“That idiot needs to learn how to drive!” is something that I have certainly said or thought on multiple occasions while driving down the road. Even if we hold our tongues, there are many situations in life that anger or annoy us and cause us to label a person an idiot, a jerk, or something else.
However, the fathers warn us of the danger of labeling someone with a derogatory word. We must be careful to never sum up a human’s entire existence in one unkind thought or word, whether or not it seems justified. Otherwise, we are condemning that person, which is a dangerous sin.
Condemning a man is saying, ‘he is a wicked liar, or he is an angry man, or he is a fornicator.’ For in this way one judges the condition of his soul and draws a conclusion about his whole life…This is a very serious thing. For it is one thing to say, ‘He got mad,’ and another thing to say, ‘He is bad-tempered,’ and to reveal, as we said, the whole disposition of his life. 
Going back to my opening example, it is one thing to say, “That driver made a poor decision and almost caused an accident,” it another thing to say, “That idiot is a reckless driver!” As I have previously mentioned, we are going to notice other people’s faults, especially if they could potentially hurt or endanger us in any sort of way. But we must carefully watch ourselves and abstain from condemning the person in word or thought, though we recognize that the action was not good.
I attempt to apply this lesson to all aspects of life, including theological discussions. I try to refrain from calling anyone a heretic unless the person has been deemed to be so by a church counsel and/or the writings of the saints. Heretics have been so called because they have consciously rejected the teachings of the Orthodox Church and the whole of their doctrine distorts the character of God and how we relate to Him.
Our American religious landscape is largely Protestant, and it greatly influences our beliefs and causes most of us to hold some erroneous ideas. It is important that we show a little patience and grace for others and simply say, “That person holds some erroneous ideas,” rather than, “That person is a heretic.” It is easy to fall into the trap that I have seen with a few zealous converts who lack patience for anyone whose ideas are not wholly Orthodox.
We must recognize that we are all works in progress, and, therefore, we should abstain from summing up our brother’s entire existence in one derogatory word.
 Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings, translated by Eric P. Wheeler, Cistercian Publications 1977.
Photo credit: Carlos Diaz