John’s first discourse, and John the Baptist’s I-am-ness:
This is the testimony John gave when the Jews of Jerusalem sent a deputation of priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He readily acknowledged, ‘I am not the Messiah.’
‘What then? Are you Elijah?’
‘I am not,’ he replied.
‘Are you the Prophet?’
‘No,’ he said.
‘Then who are you?’ they asked. ‘We must give an answer to those who sent us. What account do you give of yourself?’
He answered in the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘I am a voice crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’ (John 1:19 – 23, REB)
When the deputation asked John the Baptist who he was, he answered who he was not.
When they changed the question, he answered who he was: a voice.
The first three questions went to his essence, the Orthodox might say, so he answered in an apophatic manner: I am not, I am not, No.
Then the deputation changed the question slightly: What do you say about yourself? The new question emphasized John’s energies instead of his essence. What is your account of yourself? What is your story?
Now, he answers, I am (a voice).
One can see this same distinction between essence and energies widen into two gods in early gnosticism:
Some early Gnostic sects spoke of two Gods, “a God beyond the cosmos and a lesser, creator God, the Demiurge, who has fashioned this world and who rules over it. The highest God, the supreme reality, is variously characterized as the “Fore-Beginning,” the “Inconceivable,” the “Beyond-Being,” etc. The Demiurge, on the other hand, is a working principle. (Needleman, Lost Christianity 196)
I find the Orthodox view helpful: God is both negative and positive, essence and energy, dwelling in darkness and light. And I am essence and energies: I am not, I am not, No. I am.