A "battle of the books" has broken out in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth-biggest city, after reports that the local Orthodox bishop, a well-known conservative, ordered the destruction of works by some of the 20th century's leading Orthodox theologians.

A group of Orthodox intellectuals said that last month Bishop Nikon of Yekaterinburg ordered the burning of what he called "heretical" books which had been confiscated from students at a church seminary.Among them were the works of respected 20th-century Orthodox theologians, Alexander Schmemann, who died in 1983, John Meyendorff, who died in 1992, and Alexander Men, who was murdered in 1990.

The controversy in Yekaterinburg, about 750 miles east of Moscow, is a sign of the growing nationalist, ultra-conservative movement that is exerting considerable pressure on the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church.