Three holy men who lived in ascesis in the Monastery of St Asclepius in Mesopotamia decided to walk up and down the world in search of a sign from God for their salvation. As they approached a cave, deep in the wilderness, they became aware all at once of a marvellous scent and saw an old man coming towards them covered only by his hair and the beard that fell to his knees. He cast himself to the earth and remained there for a while, until he was sure the three strangers were not demons. Then he brought them into his cave, where he lived with two lions. They asked him to tell them his story, which he did.
His name was Macarius, the son of a rich senator of Rome. When he reached marriageable age, his parents betrothed him against his will. On his wedding night, at the moment of entering the bridal chamber in the midst of the festivities, he fled to a pious widow's, where he spent seven days in hiding, weeping and entreating the help of God. As he left her house, an old man of kindly and noble demeanour came by, and told him to follow. And, indeed, Macarius followed him for three years, until the moment of arrival near the cave, when the old man vanished. He appeared to Macarius in a dream soon after, and revealed that he was the Archangel Raphael, who had once been the guide of Tobias in his travels. Before departing, the Archangel entrusted him to the care of God and of two lion cubs that had just lost their mother.
Some while after, Macarius saw, standing before him, a most beautiful maiden, who told him that she too had fled marriage in Rome. Macarius did not have discernment enough to escape the Devil's trap, and welcomed her to spend the night in his cave. During the night, he was violently attacked, for the first time in his life, by the fiery darts of carnal desire. The pretended maiden suddenly disappeared, as the Devil triumphed in his success at introducing the thought of sin into the mind of the ascetic. Macarius then realized the gravity of his fall in the sight of God. Weeping bitterly, he made up his mind to leave the cave and find somewhere else to do penance. But, on his way, the Archangel Raphael appeared to him anew and urged him to return, for it was in his cave that God would hear his prayer. So he went back and sorely afflicted his flesh with fasting, vigils and utter abnegation for many years, in order to regain a heart of unsullied purity in which to contemplate the image of God.
When he had edified the three brethren with the story of his struggles, Macarius sent them away in peace and fell asleep in the Lord, unknown to all, in the presence only of the angels and the saints