For the Maronite Christians of Lebanon, this was a day of exalation and of defiance.

Charbal Makhlouf, a 19th Century monk and hermit, became the first Maronite in history to be formally canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican ceremonies, conducted by Pope Paul VI, were carried live on television here and whole families gathered to see their political and spiritual leaders take part. Thousands more marched barefoot for hours to St.Charbel's hilltop monastery in a demonstration of their faith.

President Elias Sarkis, Christian like all his predecessors, joined them there in a solemn Mass of celebration.

For Lebanon's Maronites, the significance of the event was more than religious. The Maronites, Christian Arabs who broke with the Roman Catholic Church in the 7th Century and returned to it 500 years later, have proclaimed their own saints in the past, put Charbel was the first to be canonized by the Vatican.

Thus, the ceremony reffirmed the Maronites ties to the West that have sustained them through centuries of conflied with the Moslems who surround them. They took it as a sign of recognition by the outside world that more than the trigger happy militiamen who fought the country's Moslems in the recent civil war.

The government has been criticized for its decision to televise the canonization proceedings, to encourage Lebanese to go to Rome to participate and to assist in organizing the trek to the monastery has only contributed to the country's divisions. Others say that failure to acknowledge the event would have so antagonized the Christians that the results would have been worse.

In a massage sent from Rome, where he assisted the Pope in the Mass of canonization, the Maronite Patriarch, Antonious Eoutros Kuraish, said that Charbel's sainthood "means a great deal for the Maronite sect, for Lenanon and for the church as a whole."

He said it means "great spiritual repicing after the great crisis to which the church was subjected, after the loss of thousands of its children, the attacks on its churches and institutions and the smearing of its reputation."

He also said it was a source of hope that "God will not abandon the Maronite sect in the future," because of "the sacrifice of the many martyrs who preferred death to apostasy."

It appeared that a cynical Moslem observe was not far wrong when he said. "They think it shows that God is on their side."

That was certainly the atmosphere in which the ceremonies were watched here in the home of Joseph Nahme an amateur historian from a promiment Christian family who spent 40 years in Lebanon's Christian dominated army. Nahme and his wife and daughters were like American football fans cheering for their team as the Pope and their patriarch canonized Charked while their Christian country-men sang and prayed.

"Today, all the world can see that we are not savages," Nahme said. "We aren't fanatics. It's the Moslems who think that unbelievers are infidels and heathers. But we had the courage to fight for ourselves."

In phrases that have been heard from countless Lebanese Christians during the years of religious strife here. Nahme blamed the country's majority Moslems for the trouble, saying they wanted to "massacre" the Christians. He complained that until today, the Maronites' fellow Chiristians in Europe and American had chosen to ignore this persecution because "Your God is Arab oil money."

This kind of thingking is not unusual in Lebanon, where the civil war ended only when the Syrian army imposed peace. No one imagines that the roots of the strife have been killed or that the bitterness of the war has faded.

Nahme's feelings are common among the christians of Lebanon, who have continued to recruit for their militias and to solidify their control over the parts of the country they dominated during the war.

The sentiments are just as strong on the other side, among the Moslems who resent the domination of the country's economic and political life by a Europe-oriented minority and by their Palestinian allies who know that the Christians leadership wants to throw them out of Lebanon. The Christian's military alliance with Israel did nothing to improverelations with the Moslems.

Former President Charles Helou, Phalange Party Leader Pierre Germayel and members of Sarkis' government were among the estimated 20,000 persons who attended the canonization ceremony at St.Peter's Basilica.

Charles was born at Beqa kafra in 1828, entered the Monastery of Our Lady of Mayfoud 23 years later and was ortainded a priest. He died at age 70 after spending his last years at Annaya as a hermit.